Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fine Arts Friday: Mother, Daughter, and an Unseen Grandfather

Mother Caressing Her Convalescent Daughter by Charles Willson Peale, 1818.

This painting is a marvel of emotional openness among three people--the mother, her daughter, and the artist--the grandfather we don't see. Peale painted this portrait of his daughter Angelica with her own daughter, Charlotte. The composition and coloration bind the two subjects as much as the caress and their expressions: the grey dress of the daughter matches the grey of the mother's hair bow. Their collars and the girl's sleeve ruffle all echo each other. They have the same dark curls. Their faces seem cut from the same stamp. The mother's shawl extends her arm to almost completely encircle her daughter. The outer lines of their heads and of the mother's shoulder encloses them in a triangle.

While the intimacy shared by mother and daughter is captured in many other paintings, what is special about this painting is that with their gaze to the unseen artist, the subjects are also reveling in their happiness and love for him. They are completely at ease. And it is hard to imagine such freshness except in a portrait painted by an artist beloved by the subject.

Thus, the painting not only celebrates the love between this mother and daughter, but also the love within the family. Peale himself sired 11 children of two wives during the strenuous times of the American Revolution and its immediate aftermath. He made his living as a portraitist, with a specialty in miniatures. He was a member of the Sons of Liberty. Despite his political life and associations, he was a dedicated family man and taught his children to paint, with four going on to become prominent artists in their own right. His many paintings of his children include the famous trompe d'oeil in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Staircase Group , where the stairs extend out of the painting to the museum floor.

The Staircase Group, or Titian and Raphael Peale, by Charles Willson Peale, 1795.

My great grandmother was descended from the Peale family through three lines, from whom she must have inherited her very joyful love of nature and family.

1 comment:

Jodi said...

Linda, I love Peale's paintings. And your insightful descriptions help me to enjoy them so much more. So thank you.

Regarding the Staircase Group painting, did you ever hear the story that when George Washington was visiting Charles Peale, the painting was leaning up against a wall, and as he passed, Mr. Washington actually tipped his hat because the painting looked so really that he thought he was seeing Peale's sons.

I believe I heard this story at the Brandywine River Museum in PA. Some of Peale's works are there. If you're ever in PA, you might like to visit.