To follow up on the news of the sale of Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of Yarrow Mamout, our author, James H. Johnston talked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art about the acquisition. The painting is already on display, just inside and to the left of the front entrance. Fittingly, it is joined by Peale’s Self-Portrait in the Museum. The latter was a precursor to the artist’s larger work, The Artist in His Museum, which is owned by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and currently on display in a special exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington DC.
By the time he painted Yarrow, Peale was more than just a portrait painter. He was also a businessman, operating a combination natural history museum and art gallery in Philadelphia. In it were copies of Peale’s portraits of the first four presidents, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. In 1818, the artist went in Washington, D.C. to get a painting of James Monroe to add to the presidential gallery in the museum. That is when he heard about Yarrow. Thus, Peale returned to Philadelphia with paintings of both president and former slave.
James H. Johnston’s book, From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family is forthcoming in May 2012. It will provide a great deal more about Yarrow and Peale and the friendship that developed between the two, which the Philadelphia Museum of Art suggests in its new exhibit. Johnston is also giving a talk December 4, 2011 on the Beall Family who owned Yarrow. It will be given at Claymont Court, Claymont Society, 667 Huyett Road, Charles Town, WV 25414.