Already a celebrated naval officer, Commodore Isaac Hull captured the nation's attention during the War of 1812, when the U.S. Constitution, under his command, battled and sank the British frigate Guerriere.These portraits do not emphasize Hull's heroism, as did other contemporary examples. Rather, they were undoubtedly family paintings meant to be enjoyed in private. The emphasis on Commodore and Mrs. Hull's appearance, as well as their bust-length compositions and neutral backgrounds, derive from William Dunlap's previous career as a miniaturist, since the small scale of portrait miniatures left little room for fanciful backgrounds.
William Dunlap was not only a portraitist. Much of what we know about early American art comes from his 1834 "History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design of the United States," the first history of American art, written by someone who personally knew most of the subjects.