Peale son and father capture Maryland elite on canvas during early 1800s

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

To mark the opening of the special exhibition Treasures of State: Maryland’s Art Collection (on view through Oct. 22), we hope that you enjoy these portraits in our collection. If you visit the museum, these works are included in the exhibition.

R. Peale governor

Raphaelle Peale (American, 1774–1825)
Portrait of Samuel Sprigg, 17th Governor of Maryland, 1819
Oil on canvas
36.325″h x 27.625″w
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Museum purchase, A3171,96.0017

R Peale portrait of a woman

Portrait of Violetta Lansdale Sprigg, c. 1820
Oil on canvas
36.25″h x 27″w
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Violetta Lansdale Otis, 2013.4.1

In this commanding pair of portraits, Raphaelle Peale depicted the Spriggs as elegant and confident. Peale included items that alert us to the sitters’ social status or profession. In Portrait of Samuel Sprigg, the book visible on the left, Laws of Maryland, alludes to Samuel’s (1781–1855) legal career, while his gold pocket watch references his material success. Similarly, in Portrait of Violetta Lansdale, the subject (1787–1865) wears a fashionable hair comb, fancy rings, an elegant dress, and an intricate lace collar, indicating that she lived in considerable comfort. Violetta married Samuel on January 1, 1811.

Samuel Sprigg was born in Washington County, around 1783 and lived there until his father died in 1800. He was then adopted by his uncle, Osborn Sprigg II, owner of Northampton, a thousand-acre estate in Prince George’s County, which he inherited in 1815. Sprigg studied law and practiced in this county after being admitted to the bar in 1808. He served as governor of Maryland from 1819–22.

Raphaelle Peale was a highly successful portraitist and the eldest son of renowned painter Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827). Born in Annapolis, Raphaelle was trained by his father and considered by him the most talented of his children. He painted miniatures and profile portraits throughout his career and became a still-life artist later in life. Raphaelle established a tradition in that genre that was contributed to by his uncle, James Peale (1749–1831), and carried into the mid-1800s by his cousin, Sarah Miriam Peale (1800–1885) Raphaelle joined his brother, Rembrandt (1778–1860), in several artistic ventures. When their idea for a portrait gallery of distinguished Baltimore citizens failed to materialize, they traveled together in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia as a portrait team, with Rembrandt painting large oils and Raphaelle miniatures.

In contrast to his father Charles Willson’s half-length portrait of Samuel Sprigg (see below, also on view in the exhibition), in which Sprigg is shown looking off to the right, Raphaelle employed a three-quarter length format composition in which Sprigg gazes directly at the viewer. Unlike Charles Willson, Raphaelle used a plain background rather than the drapery and column chosen by his father.


charles peale
Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741–1827)
Samuel Sprigg (1783–1855), 1824
Oil on canvas
29″ x 24″
Collection of the Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545–1055
This WeekendArt is sponsored by Mr. William G. Pitzer