A Catalogue of Portraits and Other Works of Art in the Possession of the American Philosophical Society

A Catalogue of Portraits and Other Works of Art in the Possession of the American Philosophical Society

A Catalogue of Portraits and Other Works of Art in the Possession of the American Philosophical Society

A Catalogue of Portraits and Other Works of Art in the Possession of the American Philosophical Society

Excerpt

The portrait collection of the Society had its beginning on January 16, 1785, with Charles Willson Peale's gift of a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, "copied from a much-admired painting of Martin." The members, in returning their thanks, requested that he keep the picture until they should have "a convenient place for its reception." Like family portraits, which they resemble in so many ways, the portraits of an institution are inevitably associated with the idea of a home. At the time of Peale's gift the Society for some months had been actively raising funds for the erection of Philosophical Hall. Four years later, July 17, 1789, with the Hall completed and removal into it imminent, the members voted a new portrait of Franklin, to be painted by Peale and "to be perpetually kept in one of their apartments." Peale was not present at the meeting and his earlier gift had been forgotten. The outcome of this misunderstanding was that the earlier portrait, after Martin, was hung in the Hall, and that Peale, two years later, was commissioned to add another of the President who had succeeded Franklin, David Rittenhouse. Others followed slowly. That of Washington, voted at the meeting of December 27, 1799, was received from the artist, Gilbert Stuart, April 15, 1803. Characteristically, it seems to have been John Vaughan who first conceived the idea of a gallery, regularly maintained as a symbolic union of past and present, and who set the project in motion. At the meeting of July 16, 1830, he announced that "several of the members had made arrangements to procure portraits of the several Presidents of the Society for the purpose of offering them to its acceptance." A resolution followed authorizing the President and the Librarian to borrow "such portraits of our deceased Presidents as may be deemed the best for the purpose of being copied." Today every President until very recent years is represented, with the addition also of many other officers and distinguished members.

This catalogue is the collection's first systematic appraisal as documents of the past and as works of art. Each item has been photographed, described, and its history studied. The archives of the Society have been searched thoroughly for pertinent facts . . .

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