CHARLES PEALE POLK (1767-1822)
CHARLES PEALE POLK (1767-1822)
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CHARLES PEALE POLK (1767-1822)

GEORGE WASHINGTON AT PRINCETON

Details
CHARLES PEALE POLK (1767-1822)
GEORGE WASHINGTON AT PRINCETON
recorded as signed and dated on reverse Cs Polk Painter A.D. 1790 
oil on canvas
36 x 29 1⁄8 in.
Provenance
Possibly Clement Biddle (1740-1817) or Jonathan Meredith (1740-1811)
Catherine Meredith Biddle (1865-1931) and Sarah Caldwell Biddle (1866-1930) (sisters), Philadelphia, by inheritance from an uncle in the Biddle or Meredith families
Reginald Roberts Jacobs (1892-1969), Buenos Aires, Argentina and Haverford, Pennsylvania
Denholm Muir Jacobs (b. 1922), Massachusetts and Northeast Harbor, Maine, son
Vose Galleries, Boston
Peter Tillou, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1971
Ernest Joresco, Chicago
James G. Flannery, Barrington Hills, Illinois
Thence by descent in the family
Literature
John Hill Morgan and Mantle Fielding, The Life Portraits of Washington and Their Replicas (Philadelphia, 1931), p. 135, no. 12.  
Tillou Gallery, Inc., advertisement, The Magazine Antiques (January 1971), p. 25. 
The Frick Art Reference Library, 121-20-g. 
Linda Crocker Simmons, Charles Peale Polk: A Limner and His Likenesses (Washington D.C., 1981), p. 28, no. 16. 
Exhibited
Washington D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Charles Peale Polk: A Limner and His Likenesses, 18 July-6 September 1981.  

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Lot Essay

Charles Peale Polk’s portraits of George Washington at Princeton are among the most arresting and powerful images of America’s famed General. For this group, Polk copied the head of Washington from the 1787 “Convention” portrait by his uncle, Charles Willson Peale, and enlarged the composition to include the sitter’s military garb, including his sword, and Princeton’s Nassau Hall, the recognizable building in the background that identifies the scene. Polk evidently enjoyed considerable success in the sale of these works and in 1790, in a letter to Washington requesting a sitting, Polk claimed he had already painted 50 such likenesses. While several of these survive today, the example offered here is distinguished by the recording of the artist’s signature and 1790 date on the reverse. As discussed by Linda Crocker Simmons, this portrait is the earliest known of Polk’s Princeton series (Linda Crocker Simmons, Charles Peale Polk: A Limner and His Likenesses (Washington D.C., 1981), p. 28).

The earliest known history of this portrait is its ownership by two sisters, Catherine Meredith Biddle (1865-1931) and Sarah Caldwell Biddle (1866-1930), who received the portrait as an inheritance from an unspecified uncle. Daughters of James Cornell Biddle (1835-1898) and Gertrude Gouverneur Meredith (1839-1905), the sisters had four blood-related uncles; two on the Biddle side of the family died when the sisters were young girls and it seems likely that this uncle was Cadwalader Biddle (1837-1906) or William Meredith (1835-1903), both of whom died unmarried and childless. Cadwalader Biddle was the grandson of Clement Biddle (1740-1814), who served as a general under Washington during the Revolutionary War and fought at the Battle of Princeton, the scene depicted in this portrait. Biddle and Washington maintained a close friendship and in 1789, the year before this portrait was painted, Biddle was appointed by Washington to head of the United States Marshals. Meredith was the great-grandson of Jonathan Meredith (1740-1811), a prosperous tanner and property developer. Styled “Gentleman” in his probate papers, Meredith is very likely the “Meredith, Esq.” listed on Gilbert Stuart’s “A list of gentlemen who are to have copies of the Portrait of the President of the United States,” compiled by the artist in April 1795 (see Ellen G. Miles, “The Portraits of Washington,” Gilbert Stuart (New York, 2004), p. 133). It is not known if Meredith owned a portrait of Washington by Stuart, but his name on the artist’s list indicates his interest. Both Meredith and Biddle stand as likely purchasers of Polk’s likeness of Washington.

After the Biddle sisters died in 1930 and 1931, the portrait passed to Reginald Robert Jacobs (1892-1969), an Argentinian who came to Philadelphia in 1914 to study at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1920, he is listed as a lodger in the Biddle sisters' brick townhouse at 1326 Spruce Street, Philadelphia and presumably maintained a close relationship with them over the next decade. He married Sophia Yarnall in 1921 and their wedding was extensively covered in the Philadelphia press. The couple lived in Ardmore and then Haverford, where this portrait presumably hung in their homes. The portrait was next owned by their son, Denholm Muir Jacobs (b. 1922), who resided in the Boston area and Northeast Harbor, Maine. It thence was sold by Boston's Vose Galleries and subsequently by dealers Peter Tillou of Litchfield, Connecticut and Ernest Joresco of Chicago. From the latter, it was acquired by James G. Flannery (1935-2008), president of the White Way sign company who lived in Barrington Hills, Illinois, and has since descended in his family.

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