Part 1: 1450-1750
Part 2: 1750-1805
<--Part 3: 1791-1831
Part 4: 1831-1865

Narrative | Resource Bank | Teacher's Guide

Historical Documents
Portrait of Benjamin Rush

Resource Bank Contents

Portrait of Benjamin Rush

click image for close-up
Like many of Charles Willson Peale's portraits, his 1783 oil painting of Benjamin Rush sought to portray the intellectual qualities and political sensibilities of the subject. Peale's depiction of Rush sitting at a table in a windowless room, wearing a dressing gown, represented Rush's rejection of the Pennsylvania Assembly, which he dismissed as a "mobocracy" for its democratic aims.

With pen poised in hand over an oration in progress, Rush is portrayed as a man of letters. The paper reads, "Sec. 29. We come now gentlemen to investigate the cause of earthquakes." Since Rush is not known to ever have written or delivered such an oration, the sentence is believed to serve as a metaphor for the reasoned exploration of a phenomenon -- the Assembly -- that threatens the foundations of society.

Rush was 37 years old when the portrait was painted. This same image was painted again in 1786 as a pendant, to accompany Peale's portrait of Julia Stockton Rush, commissioned on the occasion of her marriage to Benjamin Rush.

Image Credit: Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, Gift of Mrs. T. Charlton Henry

previous | next

Related Entries:
Benjamin Rush
Thomas Jefferson by Peale
The Accident in Lombard Street

Part 3: Narrative | Resource Bank Contents | Teacher's Guide

Africans in America: Home | Resource Bank Index | Search | Shop

WGBH | PBS Online | ©