"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Friday, May 29, 2020

Benjamin and Eleanor Ridgely Laming

Benjamin Laming
Eleanor Ridgely Laming

This 1788 portrait of Benjamin (1750—1792) and Eleanor Ridgely Laming (c. 1760 - 23 Oct 1829) by Charles Willson Peale hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Charles Willson Peale was a major figure in American science and art during the revolutionary period. His faith in the educational value of art led him to establish a painting academy in Philadelphia as early as 1795. When that venture failed, Peale combined his scientific and artistic interests in a museum.
In 1788, the Lamings had asked him to do this double portrait. Peale's diary records his activity from 18 September, when he “sketched out the design” after dinner, to 5 October, when he added the final touches. Besides working on the picture, Peale studied natural history at the family's estate outside Baltimore.
Peale cleverly devised a leaning posture for the husband so that his bulk would not overshadow his petite wife. Moreover, this unusual, reclining attitude binds the couple closer together, telling of their love.
The setting, “view of part of Baltimore Town,” is appropriate for a wealthy Maryland merchant. The spyglass indicates Laming's interest in shippage by sea, and the green parrot perched behind his leg may recall his birth in the West Indies. Mrs. Laming's fruit and flowers, although traditional emblems of innocence and fertility, could also refer to her own gardening. The detailed attention paid to the bird, plants, scenery, and telescope attests to Peale's encyclopedic knowledge. -- NGA
In the course of contextualizing Charles Brockton Brown's novel Wieland,  Philip Barnard  and Stephen Shapiro give us this description of Peale's painting.
Benjamin Laming (1750—1792) was a wealthy Baltimore merchant in the Caribbean sugar, rum, and wine trade who married into the Ridgely clan, one of Maryland's most influential families. Whereas traditional portraits rarely eroticize physical contact between elite married couples, here the pair's posture, absorbed gazes, and attributes convey a ready sensuality and inclination to erotic pleasure, indicated most clearly in the way Benjamin's telescope extends from his breeches toward the allegorical fruits held by his partner Eleanor. The portrait celebrates female sexuality with its fruits and flowers, by emphasizing Eleanor's loosely flowing tresses and sashes, which hint at a relaxation of bodily constraints, and by having the woman grasp her partner's arm, actively drawing him and his telescope toward her. The marine background (the Chesapeake waterfront at Baltimore) and exotic parrot inscribe the Caribbean and mercantile origin of Laming's wealth.  -- Barnard & Shapiro
 Arms Entwined



& a view of part of Baltimore Town

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