With their urn finials and fluted column shafts, the pair of andirons offered here illustrates the high level of craftsmanship achieved by the best brass founders in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Philadelphia. The most prominent member of his trade, Daniel King, Sr. (1731-1806) supplied Philadelphia's elite with the latest designs, including "one pare of the Best Rote fier Dogs with Corinthen Coloms" for General John Cadwalader in 1770. After leading the brass founders in the Grand Federal Procession of 1788, King retired to Germantown and his son, Daniel King, Jr., appears to have taken over the running of the foundry (Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia, 1976), p. 102). In additon to the superior workmanship evident in the andirons, the attribution to King is based on their similarities to two other pairs, one signed by King. All bear closely related fluted columnar shafts, bases and capitals and rectangular plinths; with ball-and-claw feet and urn-and-cap finials, the other two pairs may represent an earlier design to that illustrated here. Signed "Daniel King fecit," one pair is in the collection of Winterthur Museum and illustrated in Winterthur Library: Decorative Arts Photographic Collection, 85.678; the other pair is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and illustrated in Warren et al, American Decorative Arts and Paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection (Princeton, New Jersey, 1998), cat. M263, p.364.
The andirons were owned by the famous Peale family of Philadelphia, most likely Rubens Peale (1784-1865) or his father, Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). The pair are featured in a late nineteenth-century photograph of a farmhouse interior (see fig. 1) owned by Mary Jane Peale (1827-1902), the daughter of Rubens. Built in 1741 near Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania and acquired by Rubens Peale in 1842, the two-story log house and its contents were inherited by Mary Jane upon her father's death in 1865. Rubens may have commissioned the andirons in the early nineteenth century while he was still in his twenties; however, if the andirons were made any earlier, he undoubtedly inherited them from the previous generation, possibly from Charles Willson Peale.
After running several of his family's renowned museums in Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York, Rubens turned to farming and, at the age of seventy-one, took up painting in 1855. Living in the farmhouse illustrated in fig. 1 with his wife, Eliza Burd Patterson, he recorded daily activities, including his painting projects, family visits and local farming practices in his "Journal of Woodland Farm" (later called "Riverside"). The diary illustrates the close relationship between Rubens and his only daughter, Mary Jane. During this time, Mary Jane was studying art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and she frequently visited the farm where she and her father painted together (Schweizer, "Fruits of Perseverance: The Art of Rubens Peale, 1855-1865," The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy 1770-1870 (New York, 1996), pp.169-171, fn. 2).
Born in New York City, Mary Jane Peale became an accomplished artist in her own right. She studied under her uncle, Rembrandt, and Thomas Sully. After her father's death, she travelled to Europe where she frequently visited artists' studios (Schwarz, A Gallery Collects Peales (Philadelphia, 1987), p. 32). She died childless and the andirons were passed on to her brother, James Burd Peale, and have descended along the female lines to the present day.