Female artists were as rare in the United States as elsewhere in the nineteenth century; few women had the opportunity to become artists if they were not related or married to one. Anna Claypoole Peale had apprenticed under her father, James, who painted miniatures in addition to full-sized...
Female artists were as rare in the United States as elsewhere in the nineteenth century; few women had the opportunity to become artists if they were not related or married to one. Anna Claypoole Peale had apprenticed under her father, James, who painted miniatures in addition to full-sized portraits. She made her own reputation solely on miniatures, exhibiting her first groups at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1814. Richard Mentor Johnson, a native Kentuckian, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1802. He served in Congress for three decades in both the House (1807–19, 1829–37) and the Senate (1819–29). When Peale painted this portrait, Johnson was a hero of the War of 1812 and was serving in the House of Representatives. Johnson, a war hawk, had supported the War of 1812 and fought brilliantly with a mounted regiment of Kentucky riflemen against the British and Native Americans at the Battle of the Thames, in Ontario, Canada. He was severely wounded there, but he may have killed the great chief Tecumseh, who perished at this battle. In keeping with the function of the miniature as a personal memento, Peale presents the private man here rather than the public persona, showing none of the symbols associated with his career. Peale’s unusual approach assured her popularity: she used rich, dark colors—such as the luscious red of Johnson’s jacket—that resemble oil paints rather than the pale washes of watercolor more typical of miniatures. In addition to the portrait of Johnson, Peale was commissioned to paint James Monroe, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson, among others, while she was in Washington. Upon her return to Philadelphia, she wrote to her cousin, “I have so much work to do that I hardly know what to do with myself.”She would be elected an academician at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1824 and would exhibit there regularly until 1842, when she married and quit her career. Notes 1. Anna Claypoole Peale to her cousin Titian Ramsay Peale, April 7, 1819, in The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, ed. Lillian B. Miller, Sidney Hart, David C. Ward, and Rose Emerick, vol. 3, The Belfield Farm Years: 1810–1820 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 714. This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).
Anna C/ Peale/ 1818
1818, Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson (1780-1850), Great Crossing, Kentucky. Mr. Jackson, Fayette Country, Kentucky. Sold by the descendants of the sitter to Katherine Turner Reynolds, Lexington, Kentucky . 1968, sold by Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York to the MFA. (Accession Date: October 9, 1968)  Ann Sue Hirshorn, "Legacy of Ivory: Anna Claypoole Peale's Portrait Miniatures," Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, vol. 64, no. 4, 1989, p. 27, n28.
Emma F. Munroe Fund