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Her Mistress's Clothes, 1848
Harriett Cany Peale (1800-1869)

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Oil on panel
10 1/8 x 8 1/4 inches
Signature Details: HC Peale 1848
Status: Private collection, Maryland

Harriet Cany, a pupil of Rembrandt Peale, worked in her family's fancy goods business prior to marrying Peale on November 6, 1840.  Earlier that year she had exhibited a painting at the Artists' Fund Society for the first time. This work, a copy of Carlo Dolci's Magdalene, was prophetic of her future productions, for although she painted landscapes, still-lifes, portraits, genre and fancy pieces, she almost invariably replicated other artists' work. She is listed as an exhibitor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1848, 1849, 1850, 1865, and 1866. She was, however, more prolific than these few exhibitions would indicate.

Harriet shared Rembrandt's love of art. On October 22, 1846, she wrote to Anna Sellers that "You must imagine us, occupied precisely as you left us, always most happy when our pencils are in hand. . . ."  (Peale-Sellers Collection, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia). The Peales occasionally painted the same subject as in the case of Paul Weber's  Braddock's Field which they borrowed from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1855. Harriet often assisted Rembrandt in the production of his numerous "Porthole" portraits of George Washington and is documented as having made copies after several of his other works. As one might expect, her work betrays many of Rembrandt's stylistic characteristics. Her dedication to her husband was evident in her letters to his family. In writing to Anna Sellers in 1847, she noted Peale's recovery from a bout of rheumatism and proclaimed, "Your Uncle ... he is one of the handsomest as well as one of the best men of his age extant, and I sincerely wish dear Anna you had his fac similie (sic), deducting some 40 years from his age." (Peale-Sellers Collection, American Philosophical Society)

Harriet's presence seemed to allow Peale to enjoy painting more for its own sake than for reasons of social utility or artistic competition. In the "Preliminary Remarks" of his extensive technical handbook for artist, "The Notes of the Painting Room," Rembrandt acknowledged the stimulation she had afforded him.  "These Notes are not the obscure recollections of past conception or doubtful practice; but the fresh and bona fide memoranda of the Painting room-revised in the evening. My eldest Daughter (Rosalba Peale), an artist of some talent, had often urged me to commit to writing the results of my experience, which was but partially done, until a second marriage have me a companion & Pupil whose love of painting & zeal for improvement constantly drew from the store-house of memory, for instant use, what else might have been lost." ["Notes of the Painting Room," Sartain Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia]

Carol E. Hevner

A GALLERY COLLECTS PEALES, Frank S. Schwarz & Son, Philadelphia, July 1987, page 30.


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