Portrait of Benjamin Harrison (1743-1807) of Brandon
Origin: America, Virginia, Prince George County
Unframed: 48 15/16" x 39 11/16" and Framed: 55 1/8"x 45 3/4" x 2"
Partial Gift, W. Gordon Harrison, Jr. and Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1983-318,A
A three-quarter-length portrait of a standing man turned slightly to the viewer's right, his stance modishly, subtly curving in space. Charles Willson Peale portrayed an educated and wealthy man, but without the showy material details common in many of his works. Based on comparisons with other Peale portraits, the conservative restraint evident in Harrison's dress, furnishings, and demeanor was more a characteristic of the sitter than of the artist's style. Although Harrison was the scion of a powerful Virginia family, the viewer sees not a link in a long genealogical chain but a self-assured individual, comfortable with himself, his power, and his responsibilities.
The current (2009) gilded frame is a modern replacement, accessioned as 1983-318,C, which see. Also see "Curatorial Remarks."
Label:Charles Willson Peale recorded his subject's status with subtlety, minimizing the showy materialistic details that most of his wealthy clients enjoyed displaying more openly. As an example, Benjamin Harrison wears a miniature portrait on a ribbon around his neck, but the costly object is only half visible, tucked beneath the edge of his waistcoat. Similarly, lack of sharp highlighting and low contrast with the background downplay the expensive carved decoration on Harrison's table. Indeed, restraint and elegance characterize every aspect of Peale's sensitive likeness.
The setting is Brandon, Harrison's plantation on the south side of the James River in Prince George County, Virginia. The subject, the son of Nathaniel Harrison and Mary Digges, was a member of the State Council in 1776 and the House of Delegates from 1777. He was a second cousin of the Benjamin Harrison (1726-1791) who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Provenance:The picture descended in the Harrison family until it was acquired by CWF in 1983. The line of descent is believed to have been:
From the subject to his son, George Evelyn Harrison (1797-1839); to his son, George Evelyn Harrison, Jr. (1837-1880); to his son, William Gordon Harrison (1869-1939); to his son, William Gordon Harrison, Jr. (1909-1998), who was CWF's vendor and partial donor.
Inscription(s):Inscribed in black paint at lower right, at about the level of the hand on the hip, is: "CWPeale/pinx. 1775". The "W" and "P" are conjoined in the name.
The spines of the two books in the composition are inscribed in block letters in yellow paint (top book) "RURAL/ECONOMY" and "HALES/HUSBAND/[R]Y". The "Y" in the last word is set ABOVE, not below, the rest of the word, and no sign of an "R" is visible.