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Harriet Cany (Mrs. Rembrandt) Peale American  1800 - 1869
Agatharkhis  1848
Oil on Canvas
24 x 20 inches, sight
Category: Paintings - American
Era: 19th Century
AFA Issue or
Dealer Reference#:
Spring 2006
Harriet Cany Peale (1800-1869), Agatharkhis, 1848 (Attributed to Rembrandt Peale); Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches; Original frame.

Upon removing the wax lining from the painting, we discovered the inscription Erinna. We first thought it was the model's name or the painting's title. We learned, however, that Erinna was a Greek poet who composed a poem describing a portrait of Agatharkhis painted by demigod Prometheus (from the Greek for forethinker.)

Harriet Cany Peale (1800-1869)
Harriet Cany (Caney) was born in Philadelphia in 1800 and died in 1860. Although it is not known exactly when she began to paint, Harriet Cany studied with Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860) in Philadelphia. In 1840, she exhibited for the first time at the Artists' Fund Society and that year the widowed Cany married her teacher Rembrandt Peale. Unlike most women artists of the time, she continued to paint and exhibit actively after her marriage.

Although there are no records of Harriet Cany Peale's travels to Europe, her husband, Rembrandt Peale, went abroad several times throughout his career, culminating in a trip to Italy in 1829-30. Among the paintings he copied, there were examples by the Baroque masters Guido Reni (1575-1642) and Domenichino (1581-1641), who enjoyed great popularity with nineteenth-century American audiences. Harriet Cany Peale's Ideal Portrait ultimately may be derived from one of Domenichino's Old Testament Sibyls copied by Rembrandt Peale while in Italy. Rembrandt used Sibyl as the source for many of his later portraits and what were called invented costume pictures or "fancy pieces," including Woman with a Turban (1840), which he gave to Harriet prior to their marriage. It has been suggested that Harriet herself is the subject of her 1840's painting Ideal Portrait (McMullen Museum) which is the earliest American painting by a woman artist in the Boston College collection. Another version of the composition is in the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia.

In 1848, Harriet Cany Peale exhibited Peasant Girl, #136 and Fancy Portrait, #176 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for the first time. In 1850, she exhibited copies of works after Rembrandt Peale and according to records she continued exhibiting sporadically for the next twenty years. Her subjects were varied: portraiture, still life, and genre with many (like in the 1850's) being copies after other artists, including her husband. She also collaborated with Rembrandt on replicas of his famous "Porthole" portrait of George Washington.

Some of Harriet's more notable works are Still Life with Lowestoft Bowl, 1857 (Gift of Mr. Walter Nelson Pharr in honor of his mother, Mrs. Blanche R. Pharr, Brooks Museum, Memphis), Woman at the Window (Gift of the William Eliason Pennington Art Fund, Washington County Museum, Maryland). Other notable paintings include; View of the Catskill Mountains, 1858, Babcock Field, 1855 and her portrait of Rembrandt Peale.

Museums: Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA ; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ; The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, MD

Book References: The Peale Family Creation of a Legacy 1770-1870, Lillian Miller, (editor); At Beck and Call: Domestic Servants In 19th Century Painting, Elizabeth L. O'Leary ; Three Hundred Years of American Art In The Chrysler Museum, Dennis R. Anderson

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