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CHARLES WILLSON PEALE (1741-1827)
Mezzotint, 1787
Oval height 12.9, oval width 10.3


 

Boglewood: 1401
Hart:  3
Wick:
21


[Version III, printed in colors.]
 

 

Source image:
Charles Wilson Peale, Type D
Oil on canvas (1787).

  Text:
[Inner border] Painted and Engrav'd by C. W. Peale. 1787. [Outer border] His Excell: G: Washington Esq: Late Commander in Chief of the Armies of the United-States of America [star]
 

Version I:  (1787)  As shown, without text.  Collections:  Metropolitan Museum; New York Public Library; Yale University
Version II:  (1787)  As shown.  Collections:  Independence Hall (black); N. Y. Public Library (reddish brown)
Version III:  (1787)  As shown, with outer border text erased and re-lettered:  His Excell: G: Washington Esq: Late Commander in Chief of the Armies of the U. S. of America & President of the Convention of 1787 [star].  Collections:  Metropolitan Museum (black); New York Public Library (1 black, 1 colored); Winterthur (black)

Notes:  Version II was printed in black and in reddish brown; Version III was printed in black, in red, and in colors.  Wick states that this print by Peale represents "one of the earliest experiments with copperplate color printing in America."

This print was part of Peale's plan to publish a series of engravings of Revolutionary War figures.  He described the project in a letter dated 2 February 1787:

But of Late I have begun one other great work, the making of Mezzotinto prints from my collection of portraits of Illustrious Personages.  This undertaking will cost me much labour as I am obliged to take the plates from the rough and doing the whole business myself, even the impressing. . . . My first intention was to have taken subscriptions for a Doz prints which I had selected out of the whole collection of Heads, but on second thought I have judged it best to propose only one at a time which I expect I shall be able to deliver 6 weeks after I begin the work.  The price of each print will be 3 dollars in a double oveal Frame, the inner part of the framed border under the Glass to be gilt--to each print without fraiming one Dollar. . . . By this business of Prints I hope I shall get something in return for my great Expense of time and labour in making my Collection of Portraits.  (E. P. Richardson, p. 169, quoted in Wick, p. 95-96.)

George Washington, upon receiving from Peale a copy of the first engraving in the series (Benjamin Franklin), responded 27 February 1787:  "I wish you great success in the Mezzotinto Prints which you have undertaken, and have no doubt but your abilities in Works of Genius will ensure it." (FitzPatrick 29:178, quoted in Wick, p. 96.)

Peale wrote Washington again on 29 May 1787, after he had been elected president of the Constitutional Convention:

With the utmost reluctance I undertake to ask you to take the trouble of sitting for another portrait. It gives me pain to make the request, but the great desire I have to make a good mezzotinto print that your numerous friends may be gratified with a faithful likeness (several of whom I find is not satisfied with any of the portraits they have seen). My particular interest alone in this business would not have induced me to be thus troublesome, but if you can indulge me so far I will do everything in my power to make it convenient & easy to you. (Sellers, Portraits, p. 237.)

Washington sat for Peale on 3 July, 6 July and 9 July 1787.  Peale wrote him:

On the success of this undertaking depends much of my happiness. . . . If I am so fortunate as t make a good and faithful portrait, shall be enabled to gratify many of your warm friends by executing a good print, and the practice I lately had in this line is only bringing in my hand to execute something I hope more excellent." (Sellers, Portraits. p. 238.)

Peale advertised his Washington mezzotint 20 August 1787 in the Pennsylvania Packet and 26 September 1787 in the Pennsylvania Gazette. On 28 September 1787 the Pennsylvania Packet noted that the price of unframed prints had been reduced to two-thirds of a dollar, and the price of framed prints was reduced from two dollars to one dollar. (Shadwell, "Peale," p. 149.)  The prints did not sell as well as Peale hoped, and he discontinued the mezzotint series.

Washington hung his copy of this print in the music room at Mount Vernon.  (Wick, p. 96, citing E. P. Richardson, p. 171.)

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