Born in Maryland, Charles Wilson Peale (1741-1827) studied portraiture with John Hesselius, and later with Benjamin West in London from 1767-1769. Following his return to the United States, he lived in Annapolis. He finally settled in Philadelphia where he received many commissions to paint portraits of the delegates at the Congress. He was called into service in December 1776 and saw action at the battles of Trenton and Princeton. He was promoted to the captaincy of the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment and remained in service until the British evacuated the city in June 1778.
One fine example of Peale’s work in the Military Collection is an oval miniature bust portrait (oil on ivory). Originally it was thought to represent Major Benjamin Fishbourn of the Third Pennsylvania Regiment and indeed there are some similarities to other known portraits of Fishbourn. However, there were some distinctive differences between portraits of the latter and the Brown miniature such as the cut of the officer’s lapels, the color of the neck cloth and waistcoat. It transpired that Peale painted two portraits and two miniatures for Colonel Walter Stewart (1756-1796) of the Thirteenth Pennsylvania Regiment in 1781 on the occasion of his marriage to Deborah McClenachan. One of the miniatures was intended to be placed in a bracelet for her and in fact there is a ¾ length portrait of the lady wearing two pearl bracelets, each set with a miniature portrait of her husband and her father. Today however, the portrait is in an ornate 19th century gilded frame.
Richard B. Harrington, ‘Two military portraits by Charles Wilson Peale’, Military Collection and Historian, Vol. 27, Winter 1975, pp. 181-184
Charles Coleman Sellers. Portraits and miniatures by Charles Wilson Peale. Philadelphia, 1952.