Past & Present

A peek inside a Historic Hill residence


In Newport’s desirable Historic Hill neighborhood, homes with an intriguing past are de rigueur, but few can boast ties to Rhode Island’s most famed Federal period artist. This circa 1840 home once belonged to Jane Stuart (1808-1888), daughter of Gilbert Stuart, considered to be the “Father of American Portraiture.” While the elder Gilbert was known to have painted more than 1,000 prominent people, his most famous subjects were likely the first six presidents of the United States.

The youngest of Gilbert’s 12 children, Jane, a formidable artist in her own regard, was known to finish many of her father’s paintings. Though she never received any formal training, she was considered the best Gilbert Stuart copyist, and her work today can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Harvard University Art Collection (Mass.), National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington DC), and the Museum of Fine Arts (Mass.) in addition to private collections. Two of Gilbert’s treasured George Washington portraits hang in some of the Ocean State’s most prominent buildings in Newport’s Colony House and the State House in Providence. You may be more familiar with Gilbert Stuart’s work than you think — one of the Rhode Island native’s portraits of George Washington (there were many), known as The Athenaeum, can be found on the one dollar bill.

After her parents passed away, Jane continued to live in Newport with her sister, reportedly in three locations including this charming home where it is believed she retained her artist’s studio. Today, works by both Jane and Gilbert Stuart can be found at nearby Redwood Library & Athenaeum on nearby Bellevue Avenue, the oldest lending library in America still in circulation. In 2009, the Redwood Library hosted a Halloween costume party in honor of Jane Stuart, who they described as a “mid-19th century fixture in Newport” who “loved dressing up and going to costume parties.”

While Jane would likely agree that some elements of her mid-1800s Newport seem untouched — the Redwood is virtually unchanged and Bellevue is still the city’s toniest address — this home has been lovingly renovated to combine its Victorian roots with modern styling and conveniences.

It is easy to imagine the front of this charming cottage-style home remains similar to the days when Jane nested there, and the original hardwood flooring in the front portion of the house is still intact, having been lovingly restored. But once you delve deeper into the abode, a contemporary layout appeals to today’s homeowner. The nearly 2,900-square-foot dwelling boasts four bedrooms and an open floor plan where each room’s ambiance is distinct while flowing seamlessly into the next. The homeowner believes the place served as a rooming house at some point after Jane Stuart’s tenure there, as bedroom doors once bore numbers and there were as many as eight telephone lines wired. Gleaming hardwood floors unify the spaces while wood trim and stair treads, as well as exposed beams in the master bedroom, offer a cohesive impression. The kitchen, with custom cherry wood cabinetry, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances melds into the two-story dining room. Natural light pours in through the French doors in the dining room, which is further illuminated by soft white walls which lead out to the deck. Upstairs, the comfortable master bedroom affords aerial views of the meticulously manicured gardens and landscaping crafted by the talented homeowners, best taken in by the expansive deck.

The homeowners have filled the spaces with personal, eye-catching touches throughout. One arresting element is a wrought-iron gate used to hang hats and scarves that originated at a relative’s home in Philadelphia. Hundreds of books, from New York Times best-sellers to historic annals line the built-in bookshelves in the comfortable den.

Framed family photographs (including an impressive number of black and white ones), adds a distinctly sentimental feel, as do the children’s books that once belonged to the lady of the house’s mother.

Upholding the talent of the home’s most renowned inhabitant, the homeowners are avid art collectors, exhibiting pieces from friends, family, local artists and their own creations. A hallway doubles as a picture gallery which overlooks the dining room, and it’s just one of the spaces you’ll find original works merged with antiques, keepsakes and family heirlooms.