Charles Willson Peale painted a number of self-portraits throughout his career, but the Bayou Bend portrait is one of his most complex and revealing statements about his art and its close relationship to domesticity, family enterprise, and the educational role of art. Seated in a Windsor armchair while painting a portrait, the artist turns slightly and directs his gaze toward the viewer. Without actually gripping the brush, his daughter Angelica Kauffmann Peale (1775-1853) at right playfully appears to guide it with one hand, as her other hand points toward heaven, assuming the role of the allegorical muse of painting. To the left, Rachel Brewer Peale (1744-1790), the artist’s wife, peers out of the painted canvas toward the viewer with an expression as lifelike as those of the artist and daughter. Peale, then, challenges the viewer to consider issues of illusion and reality and the artist’s magical ability to transform pigment (as suggested by the blobs of paint revealed to the viewer on the palette, carefully juxtaposed with the the vibrantly alive portrait of his wife on the easel). Such investigations into the art of portraiture as more than a mimetic enterprise are characteristic of the artist’s most sophisticated works (see also the conceit of a painting within a painting in B.55.15).

The painting has been variously dated. Charles Coleman Sellers first proposed ca. 1782-85, which is supported by other Peale scholars. The date of 1790 was also proposed (and later rescinded) by Sellers; Rachel Brewer Peale died in 1790, which would make the portrait one of remembrance. Warren, however, argues for a date of ca. 1788 based on the relative ages of the sitters and their appearance in the painting. Stylistically, the portrait compares most closely with Peale’s works of the earlier 1780s.

RELATED EXAMPLES: Possible sources and prototypes cited by David Steinberg in Miller and Ward 1991 include Edward Fisher after Jean-Baptiste Van Loo, Colley Cibber and His Daughter, 1758, The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California; and Dirck Jacobsz, Jakob Comelisz van Oostsanen Painting a Portrait of His Wife, ca. 1550, Toledo; another interesting comparison is Gerrit van Honthorst, Pictura Is Painting a Likeness of the Artist or The Love of the Painter Is Returned by His Muse, 1648, Galerie Neuse, Bremen.

Book excerpt: Warren, David B., Michael K. Brown, Elizabeth Ann Coleman, and Emily Ballew Neff. American Decorative Arts and Paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection. Houston: Princeton Univ. Press, 1998.

Cataloguing data may change with further research.

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Charles Willson Peale, American, 1741–1827
Self-Portrait with Angelica and Portrait of Rachel
c. 1782–1785
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 36 1/8 × 27 1/8 in. (91.8 × 68.9 cm)
Credit Line

The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Current Location
The Audrey Jones Beck Building
Accession Number

Peale Museum until 1854; to George Rowan Robinson, St. Louis (b.1826, grandson of Angelica Kauffmann Peale Robinson, the subject at right in the painting), at this time, is was said to have been cleaned by Rembrandt Peale who identified it as a work by his father. Mrs. Richard P. Esty, by 1952. To Kennedy Galleries, in 1960. Acquired by Miss Ima Hogg on June 4, 1960 from Kennedy Galleries, NYC