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Portrait of James Lewis (1753-1788)

1772-1775
Origin: America, Virginia
Unframed: 31 x 26in. (78.7 x 66cm) and Framed: 33 3/4 x 28 5/8in.
Oil on canvas
Partial gift of Miss Alice Dulany Ball, Mr. Francis Mallory Ball, and Mrs. Emma Matilda Ball Papp
Acc. No. 1991-1173,A&B
A half-length portrait of a seated man, his body turned three-quarters towards the viewer's right, his eyes and head to the viewer. He holds a long-barreled gun, probably an English fowler, in his lap. He wears a white shirt and neckcloth, a red waistcoat trimmed with gold embroidery, and a blue coat with gold buttons. He has hazel eyes and brown hair. A dead bird is shown beside him at lower left. A tree trunk behind his proper right shoulder braces his back. The right side of the composition reveals a grassy field with a split-rail fence in front of a row of trees at the horizon line and, above it, a pink sky transiting to to chocolate brown at the top edge.
The 1 1/2-inch gilded cyma recta frame has gadrooning along the outer edge and beading along the sight edge and is believed to be original. The wood was estimated by eye by furniture conservator Chris Swan 11/18/2011 as probably Scots pine.
Label:James Lewis was a well-to-do Virginia planter whose gentry pursuits are reflected by his hunting rifle. Virginia gentrymen were keen to make their leisurely activities known, so they could be perceived as gentell as their British counterparts. Williamsburg gunsmith James Geddy's 1738 Virginia Gazette advertisement read, "Gentlemen and Others, may be supply'd by the Subcriber in Williamsburg, with neat Fowling-Pieces, and large Guns fit for killing Wild-Fowl in Rivers, at a resonable rate."

Celebrated Maryland-born artist Charles Wilson Peale painted portraits of many Revolutionary War leaders. After studying under the prolific artist Benjamin West in England, Peale returned to America in 1769. Commissions undertaken during his stay in Virginia in the 1770s occurred relatively early in his long career, which spanned until his death in 1827. This painting retains its original American-made frame.
Provenance:The painting descended in the family along with two companion portraits (acc. nos. 1991-1171 and 1991-1172). The three are thought to have gone from James Lewis (1753-1788), brother of Warner Lewis II; to his daughter, Mrs. Samuel Stuart Griffin (Sarah Lewis)(1787-1846); to her daughter, Mrs. Stephen Orrin Wright (Mary Louisa Griffin)(1817-?); to her daughter, Mrs. Mottram Dulany Ball (Sallie Lewis Wright)(1838-1923); to her daughter, Sallie Lewis Ball (1866-1944)(d. unmarried); to her sister, Mrs. Henry Clinton Mackall (Caroline Clinton Ball)(1869-1949); to her nephew and two nieces, Francis Mallory Ball, Jr. (1907-?), Miss Alice Dulany Ball (1913-?), and Mrs. Arthur Papp (Emma Matilda Ball)(1919-?), who were CWF's source.