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Rembrandt and Harriet Peale collection

Peale, Rembrandt, 1778-1860  Search this
Peale, Harriet Cany, ca. 1800-1869  Search this
Peale, Rembrandt, 1778-1860 (Court of death)  Search this
Washington, George, 1732-1799  Search this
0.2 Linear feet
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
circa 1820-1932
This collection of papers measures 0.2 linear feet, dates from circa 1820-1932, and provides scattered documentation of the lives of painter Rembrandt Peale and his wife Harriet. There are seven letters from Peale which discuss his Patriae Pater portrait of George Washington and his subsequent attempts to gain a commission from Congress for his equestrian portrait of the first president, as well as illuminating his opinion on patronage for the arts. The collection also contains a copy of Peale's lecture on "Washington and his Portraits," a page with drawings of Roman coins by Peale, two codicils to Harriet Peale's will, printed material including a pamphlet for Peale's The Court of Death and a catalog of sale for Harriet Peale's estate, and photographs of Rembrandt and Harriet Peale.
Scope and Content Note:
This collection of papers measures 0.2 linear feet, dates from circa 1820-1932, and provides scattered documentation of the lives of painter Rembrandt Peale and his wife Harriet. The papers contain seven letters from Peale to various individuals, including Massachusetts senator Elijah Hunt Mills, that document his attempts to seek recognition and recompense from Congress for his portraits of George Washington and illuminate his opinions on patronage of the arts. Also found here is a copy of Peale's lecture on "Washington and his Portraits," and legal papers consisting of two codicils to Harriet Peale's will which list the disposition of Rembrandt Peale paintings in her possession. There is a page with drawings of Roman coins by Peale, printed material including a pamphlet for Peale's popular allegorical painting The Court of Death, and a catalog of sale for Harriet Peale's estate. Photographs picture Rembrandt and Harriet Peale respectively, circa 1850.
The collection is arranged as one series.
Biographical Note:
Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860) was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and was the second son of painter Charles Willson Peale. He was known primarily for his historical paintings and portraits, particularly those of George Washington. Peale painted his first Washington portrait in 1795 at the age of 17, in a sitting arranged by his father. From 1795-1800 he traveled in Maryland and the South painting portraits, and from 1801-1803 studied with Benjamin West in London.

Peale returned to Europe from l808 to l8l0, and spent most of his time in Paris where he was inspired to take up historical painting. From 1813-1822 he lived in Baltimore where, in 1814, he established a museum for paintings and natural history that later became known as the Peale Museum. Peale's most famous allegorical painting, Court of Death, was completed in 1820 and was one of the most popular paintings of the decade.

In 1822 Peale moved to New York City where he embarked on an attempt to paint what he hoped would become the "Standard likeness" of Washington. In the process he reviewed portraits by other artists including John Trumbull, Gilbert Stuart and his father, as well as his own 1795 picture which had never truly satisfied him. His resulting Patriae Pater, completed in 1824, depicts Washington through an oval window, and is considered by many to be second only to Gilbert Stuart's iconic Athenaeum painting of the first president. Peale subsequently attempted to capitalise on the success of what quickly became known as his "Porthole" picture, collecting tesimonials praising the portrait from people who had known the president, and lobbying Congress, in vain, for a commission to paint an equestrian portrait of Washington. Despite his failure to gain such a commission, "Patriae Pater" was purchased by Congress in 1832 and still hangs in the U.S. Capitol.

Peale subsequently produced over 70 replicas of the "porthole" picture and in the late 1850s delivered a series of lecture entitled "Washington and his Portraits" along the East coast. He was also an accomplished writer and lecturer on natural history, and was among the founders of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, a president of the American Academy, and a founder of the National Academy.
Related Material:
Also found in the Archives of American Art are the following collections relating to Rembrandt Peale: the Albert Duveen collection of artists' letters and ephemera, 1808-1910, includes an 1855 September 8 letter from Rembrandt Peale to an unidentifed person, available on 35 mm microfilm reel D9 (frames 848-850); Printed material relating to Rembrandt Peale, 1830-1862, lent for microfilming by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1855, is available on microfilm reel P29; and the Charles Henry Hart autograph collection, 1731-1912, contains a lithograph by Peale available on 35mm microfilm reel D5 (frame 103).
In 1960, Lawrence A. Fleischman donated one letter. Six items were donated by Charles E. Feinberg in 1962. An additional 35 items were transferred from the National Collection of Fine Arts Library to the Archives in 1979.
The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.
The Archives of American Art makes its archival collections available for non-commercial, educational and personal use unless restricted by copyright and/or donor restrictions, including but not limited to access and publication restrictions. AAA makes no representations concerning such rights and restrictions and it is the user's responsibility to determine whether rights or restrictions exist and to obtain any necessary permission to access, use, reproduce and publish the collections. Please refer to the Smithsonian's Terms of Use for additional information.
Portrait painters -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia  Search this
Art -- Economic aspects  Search this
Painting, Modern -- 19th century  Search this
Portrait painting, American  Search this
Coins, Roman  Search this
Painters -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia  Search this
Rembrandt and Harriet Peale collection, circa 1820-1932. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
See more items in:
Rembrandt and Harriet Peale collection
Archival Repository:
Archives of American Art
Online Media:

Art, audiences, and the aesthetics of social order in antebellum America : Rembrandt Peale's Court of death / by Ellen Hickey Grayson

Rembrandt Peale's Court of death
Grayson, Ellen Hickey  Search this
Peale, Rembrandt 1778-1860 Court of Death  Search this
Physical description:
xiii, 696 leaves : ill
United States
19th century
Art and society--History  Search this
Art  Search this
Art exhibition audiences  Search this
Middle class--History  Search this
Art--Marketing  Search this
Neoclassicism (Art)  Search this
Romanticism  Search this
Individualism  Search this
Call number:
N40.1.P352 G7 1995a
Data Source:
Smithsonian Libraries

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