Lot 35
  • 35

James Peale 1749 - 1831

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • James Peale
  • George Washington
  • oil on canvas
  • 36 by 27 inches
  • (91.4 by 68.6 cm)
  • Painted after 1787.


David C. Claypoole (brother-in-law of the artist), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (sold: Estate of David C. Claypoole, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February 1850)
James Lenox, New York (acquired at the above sale)
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations, 1876 (gift from the above; sold: Sotheby's, New York, November 30, 2005, lot 6, illustrated)
Acquired by the present owner at the above sale


New York, The New York Public Library, Are We to Be a Nation?: The Making of the Federal Constitution, 1987, no. 114


Lenox Library Guide to the Paintings, New York, 1877, p. 10
Justin Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America, Boston, Massachusetts, 1888, vo. I, p. 567
Charles Henry Hart, "Life Portraits of George Washington," McClure's Magazine, February 1897, p. 297
Handbook to The New York Public Library: Astor, Lennox and Tilden Foundations, New York, 1905, no. 54, p. 33
John Hill Morgan and Mantle Fielding, The Life Portraits of Washington and Their Replicas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1931, "Portraits by James Peale," no. 3, pp. 119-22, 125-27
Theodore Bolton and Harry Lorin Binsse, "The Peale Portraits of Washington," Antiquarian, February 1931, p. 26
Gustave Eisen, Portraits of Washington, New York, 1932, vol. II, pp. 399-400 (as The Claypoole-Lenox)
R.W. Hill and L. Stark, "Washingtonia in the New York Public Library," New York Public Library Bulletin, February 1957, p. 76
Promenade, New York, April-September 1987, pp. 33, 11, illustrated; also illustrated in color on the cover

Catalogue Note

Upon Charles Willson Peale’s return from London in the early 1770s, James Peale abandoned his trade as a saddler and began to paint alongside his brother, with Charles sharing the knowledge he gained from his studies abroad under Benjamin West. James initially focused on portraits and landscapes, but later turned his attention to miniatures, for which he exhibited a particular skill. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, James and Charles both served as officers in the Continental Army under George Washington. James joined the Maryland Battalion as an Ensign and was later promoted to First Lieutenant and then Captain, fighting in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth and Valley Forge. After the war, both James and Charles returned full-time to their careers as painters.

Undoubtedly encouraged both by his brother’s success with his portraits of Washington as well as his own military experience, James painted several portraits of the first president. According to John Hill Morgan and Mantle Fielding in their authoritative work The Life Portraits of Washington and Their Replicas, James Peale referred to two paintings by Charles in developing the present half-length portrait of Washington in military dress. The head and shoulders are modeled after the portrait of Washington that Charles painted for the Continental Congress in 1787 (figure 1), and the horse and attendant are based on his full-length Washington at the Battle of Princeton of 1779 (figure 2).  Rembrandt Peale, Charles’s son, noted that the attendant in the present painting is a self-portrait of James, who accompanied his brother and nephew for a series of sittings with Washington, which resulted in Charles’s George Washington of 1787 (figure 1). Rembrandt wrote of the experience, “During the sittings for this portrait I stood behind my father’s chair watching its progress and the movements of the sitter’s countenance, during his familiar conversation with my father. This left an indelible impression on my memory. This portrait, which was only head size, was copied by my uncle James Peale on a larger canvas, adding the figure in military costume, and an attendant with a horse in the background. The attendant is a portrait of himself.”

Mr. Morgan and Mr. Fielding continue, “When James Peale first copied the head and shoulders from this portrait into his half-length portraits of Washington is not definitely known, but the head and figure in all of the portraits of this type are practically the same; it is only in the background that the portraits differ. Probably James Peale recognized that there was a market for a smaller portrait than his brother’s full length, of which many replicas had been painted and sold. He, therefore, as Rembrandt Peale says, copied the head from the portrait of 1787 ‘on a larger canvas, adding the figure in military costume, and an attendant with a horse in the background.’

“This description would indicate that the first portrait of this type was the one or was similar to the one hanging in the New York Public Library [the present work] or was the portrait owned by L.V. Lockwood, Esq., of New York City, as these are the only two exhibiting a horse and attendant” (Morgan and Fielding, The Life Portraits of Washington and Their Replicas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1931, pp. 119-20). Previous conservation of the present work revealed pentimenti on the jacket, where the placement of the buttons has been substantially altered, suggesting this version may be the first of the aforementioned portraits, as the artist was still determining the correct placement of the buttons rather than working from a previous composition.

David C. Claypoole, the artist’s brother-in-law and printer to Congress, was the first owner of this portrait. Claypoole was the editor of the Pennsylvania Packet in 1784, when they published the Valedictory Address of President Washington. James Lenox, the wealthy New York philanthropist whose collection of books and paintings formed the Lenox Library, predecessor to The New York Public Library, purchased this painting, as well as the original copy of Washington’s farewell address, from Claypoole’s estate sale in Philadelphia in 1850. Lenox’s enthusiasm for the first president is a reflection of the renewed interest in George Washington which characterized the mid-19th century.