Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

This large, full-length portrait of the sixth president of the United States is the joint work of two major American artists. Gilbert Stuart painted Adams’s face, but died before he could complete the body. After his death, a group of prominent Bostonians prevailed on Thomas Sully, a young Philadelphia painter, to finish the picture. Sully traveled to Boston for this purpose in the summer of 1829. With the exception of Adams’s face, the entire portrait is the work of Sully.

The portrait was commissioned by Adams’s cousin, Ward Nicholas Boylston. A graduate and a supporter of Harvard, Boylston planned to bequeath the work to his alma mater, together with John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Adams’s father (John Adams, 1783). At Boylston’s request, Sully designed the portrait as a pendant to Copley’s, which is exhibited here to the right. The works have the same scale, share a composition and neoclassical style, and have similar background landscapes. They have been displayed together at locations across the Harvard campus since they arrived in 1828.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Gilbert Stuart, American (North Kingstown, RI 1755 - 1828 Boston, MA)
Thomas Sully, American (Horncastle, Lincolnshire, England 1783 - 1872 Philadelphia, PA)
John Quincy Adams, American (1767 - 1848)
John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)
Work Type
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
241.3 x 151.8 cm (95 x 59 3/4 in.)
framed: 273.4 x 184.2 x 11.4 cm (107 5/8 x 72 1/2 x 4 1/2 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.l. : STUART. /1825./TS/1830.
Commissioned from the artist, 1825-1830; Ward Nicholas Boylston; his bequest to Harvard College, 1828.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard University Portrait Collection, Bequest of Ward Nicholas Boylston to Harvard College, 1828
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

"The Crimson Party", Harvard Magazine (November-December 2000), p. 120., p. 120, ill.

John Langdon Sibley, Private Journal (John Langdon Sibley Papers), Unpublished (c. 1848), see entry for July 28, 1848

Thomas Sully, Thomas Sully's Private Journal, Unpublished (1879)

James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography, D. Appleton & Co. (New York, 1888), vol. 5, p. 729

George C. Mason, The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart, Charles Scribner's Sons (New York, NY, 1894), p. 126

William Garrott Brown, A List of Portraits in the Various Buildings of Harvard University, Harvard University Library (Cambridge, MA, 1898), p. 5

Lawrence Park, Gilbert Stuart: An lllustrated Descriptive List of His Works, vol. I - IV, W. E. Rudge (New York, NY, 1926), vol. I, pp. 95-96, no. 9

Laura M. Huntsinger, Harvard Portraits: A Catalogue of Portrait Paintings at Harvard University, ed. Alan Burroughs, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1936), p. 8

Historical Records Survey, Division of Professional and Service Projects, Works Progress Administration, American Portraits, 1620-1825, found in Massachusetts, Volumes 1 and 2, Historical Records Survey (Boston, MA, 1939), p. 6, cat. 27

James Truslow Adams, Album of American History, Charles Scribner's Sons (New York, NY, 1944), p. 207

American Peoples Encyclopedia, Spencer Press, Inc. (Chicago, IL, 1946)

Roger Butterfield, The American Past: A History of the United States from Concord to Hiroshima, 1775-1945, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY, 1947)

John D. Hicks, The Federal Union, Houghton Mifflin Company (Boston, MA, 1952)

William Harlan Hale, "John Quincy Adams as Ambassador to Russia", American Heritage (February 1958)

History of the United States, Time Inc. (New York, NY, 1962), Vol. 2

Margaret L. Coit, The Life History of the United States: Vol. 3: The Growing Years, Time Inc. (New York, NY, 1963), p.34

"U.S. Presidents", American Heritage (New York, NY, 1966)

Margaret Bassett, Profiles and Portraits: American Presidents and Their Wives, Bond Wheelwright Company (Freeport, ME, 1968)

Andrew Oliver, Portraits of John Quincy Adams and His Wife, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1970), pp. 122-133, fig. 57

National Portrait Gallery, The Life Portraits of John Quincy Adams, exh. cat. (Washington, DC, 1970), cat. 15

Louise Todd Ambler and Kenyon Castle Bolton, III, "American Painting at Harvard", Antiques (New York, NY, November 1972), vol. 102, no. 5, pp. 876-883, p. 876

Kenyon Castle Bolton, III, Peter G. Huenink, Earl A. Powell III, Harry Z. Rand, and Nanette C. Sexton, American Art at Harvard, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1972), cat. 26, ill.

Marshall B. Davidson, The Artist's America, American Heritage Publishing Co. (New York, NY, 1973), p. 96

Louise Todd Ambler, "Faces from Harvard's Past", Harvard Magazine (Cambridge, MA, March-April 1978), Vol. 80, pp. 33-41

Gioconda Bianchi, American History, Istituto Geografico de Agostini-Novara (Milan, Italy, 1980)

Richard Alan Ryerson, ed., Adams Family Correspondence, Vol. 5, Belknap Press (Cambridge, MA, 1991)

Ernest R. May, The Making of the Monroe Doctrine, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1991)

Sandra Grindlay, "Harvard's Portraits: An American Treasure", Harvard University Art Museums Review (Fall 1992), vol. II, no. 1, pp. 6-7, p. 6

[Unidentified article], Congressional Quarterly (1992)

Greg Russell, John Quincy Adams and the Public Virtues of Diplomacy, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO, 1994), cover and frontispiece

David S. Grogan, John Quincy Adams, The History Project Inc. (Galax, Virginia, 1998), cover

David McCullough, John Adams, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY, 2001), fig 61

Daniel Preston, James Monroe: An Illustrated History, University of Mary Washington (Fredericksburg, VA, 2008), ill. p. 96

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. and Melissa Renn, American Paintings at Harvard, Volume One: Paintings, Watercolors, and Pastels by Artists Born before 1826, Yale University Press (U.S.) and Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge and New Haven, 2014), pp. 23, 463, 464-466, 473, cat. 431, ill.

Exhibition History

Exhibition of Paintings, 1831 (fifth exhibition), Boston Athenaeum, Boston, 01/01/1831 - 12/31/1831

American Art at Harvard, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/19/1972 - 06/18/1972

32Q: 2410 South Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 07/25/2022

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

Collection Highlights

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