Two Portraits by Rembrandt Peale Join the Columbus Museum

21/8/12 - Acquisitions - Columbus, Museum of Art - The Columbus Museum recently received a donation, by Dan and Kathleen Amos, of portraits of George and Martha Washington painted by Rembrandt Peale (ill. 1 and 2). Still presented in their original frames, these companion pieces were commissioned in 1855 by William Garraway Morehead, a Philadelphia businessman.

1. Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860)
George Washington, 1855
Oil on Canvas - 92.7 x 74.3 cm
Columbus, Museum of Art
Photo : Columbus, Museum of Art

2. Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860)
Martha Washington, 1855
Oil on Canvas - 92.7 x 74.3
Columbus, Museum of Art
Photo : Columbus, Museum of Art

Rembrandt Peale studied under his father, Charles Willson Peale [1], who also produced a certain number of portraits of George Washington to whom he was close. In 1795, he gave his son, then 17, the chance to paint the first president of the United States in person ; a promising beginning for his artistic career which he continued by then studying at the Royal Academy in London in 1801 under Benjamin West and living in Paris between 1808 and 1810 where he met David.
Rembrandt Peale often returned to this first portrait of George Washington, and made several copies of it. In 1823-1824, he worked on it again in order to create the ideal image for the father of the Nation, finding inspiration in the portraits of other heros painted by his father, by Gilbert Stuart, by John Trumbull and even sculpted by Jean-Antoine Houdon. He chose a trompe l’oeil effect by placing Washington behind an oval window in stone decorated with oak leaves and crowned with a head of Jupiter, thus producing a likeness which would pass down to posterity as the Pater Patriae (1824, United States Congress).
As of 1846, he began to make several copies, playing on the fact that he was one of the rare artists still alive to have painted the president in person ; he developed two versions : one became more widespread and showed Washington in uniform, the other represented him in civilian clothes.
The version donated to the Columbus Museum is of the first type while Martha’s portrait was inspired by that painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1795, where he adapted her age to that of her husband’s. Rembrandt’s first portrait of Martha Washington based on this model dates from 1853 ; he then produced about ten replicas. There are besides, another five pairs of known versions in public collections, notably at the Metropolitan Museum, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington and at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.
Rembrandt Peale is also remembered for the portrait of another famous American President, Thomas Jefferson.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mercredi 22 août 2012


[1] Charles Willson Peale gave all of his children, both boys and girls, names of painters. At least three of them, Raphaelle, Rubens and Rembrandt also became artists. Titian was essentially a naturalist and animal painter, as well as a photographer.

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