Robert and Elizabeth Nanovic of North Yarmouth, longtime benefactors of Cheverus High School, have donated an original oil painting of Bishop Jean-Louis Anne Magdelaine Lefebvre de Cheverus to the school. Cheverus was the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Boston.
“Bishop Cheverus, popular and prominent, was the first Bishop of Boston,” Robert Nanovic said. “Cheverus High School was renamed after him in 1926. How appropriate that the portrait of this respected bishop, portrayed by the famous artist Gilbert Stuart, should reside in our great educational institution.”
The Nanovics purchased the painting, “The Good Bishop,” in 2009 at an art auction at Grogan & Company in Dedham, Mass.
“I am thrilled,” said Fr. William Campbell, S.J., president of Cheverus High School, “not just for this school but for the wider community. Cheverus is so deeply rooted within the life of greater Portland and beyond. To this legacy, we can now add access to this painting of historic significance. That this Stuart painting is one depicting our nominal patron is a unique treat — especially as we near the 100th anniversary of Cheverus High School. Once again, the Cheverus family is indebted to the generosity of the Nanovic family and we remain ever grateful.”
Attributed to the famous portrait artist Gilbert Stuart, the painting will be on loan to the Portland Museum of Art. It is one of only two known copies and was produced late in Stuart’s career during his later years, sometime between 1823 and 1826. Stuart died in 1828.
“Bishop Cheverus was held in great esteem by Boston society,” Tom Denenberg, chief curator of the Portland Museum of Art, said in a statement. “Indeed, when he was reassigned in 1823 to a position in his native France, a group of 226 prominent Bostonians petitioned that he be allowed to stay in the United States. When his departure seemed imminent, Mary Babcock Gore commissioned Gilbert Stuart to paint the Bishop.
“As the premier portrait painter of the early republic, Stuart was in high demand and a likeness by the master firmly placed the bishop in the pantheon of civic and religious leaders of the young nation. More surprising, however, is the fact that Stuart’s portrait of the Bishop was placed on public exhibition on more than one occasion in the 1820s. Mrs. Gore’s portrait thus became a well-known image of the beloved Cheverus who went on to become the archbishop of Bordeaux and eventually a cardinal.”
Stuart is best known for his many paintings of George Washington. He was born in Rhode Island in 1755. He became one of the most sought-after portrait painters of his time, ranked alongside Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds.