CHARLES WILLSON PEALE — WHO’S HE?
By Peggy Kiefer
Why drive the busy roads to Baltimore or Washington, DC, when you can visit a beautiful, historical house and museum in the heart of historic Annapolis?
The Hammond-Harwood House, a five–part, Anglo-Palladian mansion, features an extensive collection of portraits by the well-known colonial painter, Charles Willson Peale, often referred to as the “Artist of the American Revolution.” Also in the collection are paintings by other members of the Peale family of artists, including Rembrandt Peale, James Peale and Charles Peale Polk, as well as portraits by lesser known artists.
While giving a tour of the historic Hammond Harwood house recently, I mentioned the collection of Charles Willson Peale paintings. “Charles Willson Peale, who’s he?” came a question from the back of the group.
Charles Willson Peale, in a nutshell, was one of the prolific, well-known portrait painters of colonial times, painting between 1774-1827. He was also prolific in producing other artists in his family. Among his 17 children, several are named after famous artists of earlier times, such as Rembrandt and Raphaelle, Rubens and Titian Ramsay. His brother James and nephew Charles Peale Polk are members of the “Peale dynasty.” A good modern comparison would be to the Wyeth family.
Hammond-Harwood House curators are very proud of their extensive collection of nine of Charles Willson Peale portraits, eight of which are originals. Many art lovers visit the house just to view the collection.
Upon entering the front passage, his first portrait of Hester Baldwin Chase introduces the visitor to her husband, Jeremiah Townley Chase, whose portrait, painted by another artist, Thomas Edge Pine, hangs next to her. He is believed to have been the first occupant of the house, renting an office in the North Wing. He subsequently bought the house in 1811 for his daughter, Frances Chase Loockerman, from whose children the Harwoods originated.
A portrait of historical interest, and the only non-original Peale portrait, is that of William Buckland, architect of the Hammond-Harwood House. The copy is located in the dining room; the original is permanently housed at Yale University. The original Peale portrait of William Buckland was found in the house unframed at the time of the death in 1924 of Miss Hester Harwood, great-great granddaughter of the architect and the last resident of the Hammond-House House.
Ironically, the portraits of his daughter, Sarah Callahan, her husband, John Callahan, and two of their children, are all original Charles Willson Peale portraits, and hang across the dining room from William Buckland.
Perhaps the most famous Charles Willson Peale portrait is that of a child, Ann Proctor. Mr. Peale is rumored to have avoided painting children. When he did, however, he had the children chose a favorite toy to hold, possibly to keep their interest for a short while. Ann is shown sitting in a chair holding a doll. What makes the painting so unique is that this same doll from the painting in 1789 was donated to the Hammond Harwood House in 1953. The doll also sits in a chair that is almost a duplicate of the one in the portrait. The doll is original, except for the arms and clothing. It is very unusual to have such a wonderful set of a portrait and an object from the painting, and it attracts many comments.
There are lots of compelling reasons to visit this beautiful 18th century (1774-1779) house, such as the fact it is 90 percent original, it has an extensive collection of John Shaw furniture, an Annapolitan noted for his beautifully crafted woodwork, and has a priceless collection of antique furniture and accessories, some of which belonged to the Hammond family.
Take a trip back in history, become acquainted with historic figures as depicted in the Peale portraits, as well as the other original paintings in the house, and marvel at the antique doll that has survived for over 200 years and sits for our enjoyment in a historic home right in the heart of Annapolis.
As one visitor commented at the end of a tour, “Wow, all of this history and beautiful art is right here for us to see in Annapolis. I thought we would have to drive to big cities to see what we have seen today.”
Peggy has been a docent at the Hammond-Harwood house for the last 10 years. Charles Willson Peale is one of her favorite painters and the art work in the house is always an inspiration to her. She can be reached at