(American, 1800 - 1869)
Gypsy Mother and Child
Oil on canvas, 30 1/2 x 24 3/4 inches
Signed and dated at lower left: “H. Peale/1844”
Harriet Cany, a pupil of Rembrandt Peale, worked in her family’s fancy goods business prior to marrying Peale on November 6, 1840. Harriet shared Rembrandt’s love of art. On October 22, 1846, she wrote to Anna Sellers that “You must imagine us, occupied precisely as you left us, always most happy when our pencils are in hand . . . ” and Rembrandt himself noted that Harriet was “a companion & Pupil whose love of painting & zeal for improvement constantly drew from the store‑house of memory, for instant use, what else might have been lost.” Although Harriet painted landscapes, still‑lifes, portraits, genre and fancy pieces, she almost invariably replicated other artists’ work
Rembrandt Peale and Thomas Sully were friends from shortly after Sully’s arrival in Philadelphia late in 1807 until Peale’s death in 1860. Since Peale and Sully knew each other so well, it is not surprising to find that they, and the numerous painting members of both of their families, often chose to paint some of the same compositions. Harriet Cany Peale’s Gypsy Mother and Child was apparently copied after a composition first painted by Thomas Sully in 1828. According to his Register, the painting was “copied from an engraving.” Sully made another copy of the painting in 1854. Copies were also executed by Rembrandt Peale and his niece, Mary Jane and by Sully’s daughter, Jane Sully Darley who exhibited a painting by this title at the Academy in 1828.
Harriet executed another Gypsy in 1845. This version was much smaller, being only 11 1/4 x 8 1/2 inches. It was painted in oils on copper. This smaller work has been called a portrait of Blanche Sully but, although she surely knew Blanche, as well as her painting sisters, Jane, Ellen and Rosalie, neither of Harriet’s works appear to have a likeness particularized enough to be considered a portrait. This designation may have resulted from the fact that one of Thomas Sully’s works was executed with a portrait head of Blanche.
Harriet’s painting can best be categorized as a “fancy piece.” It seems a type of costume piece, a playful and fanciful image. Sully’s note that it was taken from a “French design” suggests a print of French rococo origin, an image of a shepherdess, perhaps. Harriet Peale’s painting has a lovely soft glow of color. How specifically she was indebted to Rembrandt for this is unknown, however, since his painting, although listed in his Estate Sale, is undated.
About the Artist
(American, 1800 - 1869)
Harriet Cany, a pupil of Rembrandt Peale, worked in her family's fancy goods business prior to marrying Peale on November 6, 1840. Earlier that year she had exhibited a painting at the Artists' Fund Society for the first time. She is listed as an exhibitor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1848, 1849, 1850, 1865, and 1866. She was, however, more prolific than these few exhibitions would indicate.
Harriet shared Rembrandt's love of art. On October 22, 1846, she wrote to Anna Sellers that "You must imagine us, occupied precisely as you left us, always most happy when our pencils are in hand...." (Peale‑Sellers Collection, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia).