James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, is the subject of this painting made by Gilbert Stuart in 1804. Madison was then serving as secretary of state under Thomas Jefferson and succeeded Jefferson as president in 1809. Stuart painted Madison and his wife, Dolley Madison, separately, but the portraits were intended as a pair: the artist posed his subjects so they would turn toward each other.
Stuart came to Washington, D.C., from Philadelphia in December 1803, and within months he was in high demand. The Madisons were among his first clients. A friend of Dolley Madison's wrote, "Stuart is all the rage, he is almost worked to death … Mrs. Robert Smith [wife of the secretary of the navy] is sitting now, so is Mr. Madison." On May 20, 1804, Dolley Madison wrote to to her sister, "Steward has taken an admirable picture of Mr. Madison—his & mine are finished," but she reported that Mrs. Smith was not happy with her portrait, "tho tis verry like her."