The Mill

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The Mill, Pennsylvania, c. 1790

Maker: James Peale (1749-1831), American
Medium: Oil on Canvas
P39 Museum Purchase in 1950

This early American landscape was once owned by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, signer of the Declaration of Independence, from Annapolis. Although known as The Mill, the painting actually depicts an ironworks.

This was an especially appropriate subject for Carroll, as his family had a one-fifth interest in the Baltimore Iron Works Company. The scene in the painting shows the ironworks as defunct, with small trees susceptible to noxious fumes growing along the top wall. Although the ironworks water wheel appears to be working, Peale likely took artistic license. By the end of the 18th century many American furnaces had become non-operational. It wasn’t until the 1840’s that there was another building boom of ironworks.

This important landscape had fallen into relative obscurity when Hammond-Harwood House trustee Marvin Ross found it at Victor Spark’s antique shop in New York City in 1950 and acquired it for the museum. Ross recognized the artist could possibly be James Peale. Before Spark had it, the work belonged to the Washington County Historical Society of Hagerstown. The painting was loaned to the Baltimore Museum of Art for a 1975 exhibition entitled “Anywhere So Long As There Be Freedom: Charles Carroll of Carrollton, His Family, and His Maryland.” At that point, the painting was entitled The Mill but still had not been attributed to a particular painter.

In 1988, a curator at the Corcoran Gallery of Art contacted the Hammond-Harwood House because she was doing research on James Peale. She had discovered that Victor Spark’s files indicated that The Mill may have been painted by Peale. Following that lead, she contacted the American Philosophical Society, which has a sketchbook that belonged to James Peale. In the sketchbook there is a pen and ink drawing of the exact landscape shown in the painting, minus the figures. The distinct similarity between the two led to the attribution of the painting to Peale.

James Peale (1749-1831) was the younger brother of artist Charles Willson Peale who affectionately called him “Jemmy.” The Peale family lived in Annapolis during the brothers’ youth. In his early years James apprenticed as a cabinetmaker until his brother Charles returned from his studies in England and taught him and their brother St. George how to paint. In Charles Willson Peale’s autobiography he said James showed real talent while St. George was only tolerable in crayons. James turned to making frames for Peale’s paintings, given his cabinet making background. James moved with his brother Charles to Philadelphia on the eve of the American Revolution. He served in the Continental Army, eventually retiring as a captain in 1779. He married Mary Claypoole, sister of engraver and portraitist James Claypoole Jr. The brothers diversified and Charles took the larger portraits while James specialized in miniature portraits. In addition to miniatures James and his nephew Raphaelle became the first American painters to specialize in still lifes. Four of James’ daughters were among the first accomplished American female painters. As his eyesight failed he turned to larger romantic landscapes. However, this work, done at age 41, predates many of his other landscapes. The painting closely follows the British model of picturesque landscapes. This work is similar to another painting, also completed in 1790, Pleasure Party by the Mill, which may have also been owned by Carroll, and is now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston at Bayou Bend.

The Mill, Pennsylvania, c. 1790

By Rachel Lovett, Curator

Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
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