Sarah Chew Elliott O'Donnell

Charles Willson Peale1791/1791

Chrysler Museum of Art

Chrysler Museum of Art
Norfolk, United States

Charles Willson Peale is a monumental figure in the history of American art. A tireless patriot, scientist, and patriarch, Peale established the country's first museums (in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York) and fathered a dynasty of American artists. Peale's portraits of three generations of women in the Elliott and O'Donnell families, an illustrious Baltimore mercantile clan, highlight the virtues appropriate to each stage of an eighteenth-century woman's life: a child's innocence, a young matron's beauty and devotion, and the mature piety of a grandmother. Mary Chew Elliott (63.112.1) was the wife of Thomas Elliott, a merchant and ship's captain. She appears to have just removed her spectacles -their steel case is in her hand. The glasses as well as her finely bound book (a meditation on mortality by a popular theologian) are probably of English manufacture. Family legend holds that her patterned wrap is Baltimore's first imported cashmere shawl, a gift from her daughter Sarah's husband John O'Donnell, a successful importer of goods from China and one of the wealthiest men in Baltimore. Sarah O'Donnell is portrayed as a lady of grandeur in the English tradition. She holds a miniature portrait of her husband, a wedding gift, perhaps, or a memento presented on his departure for the East. O'Donnell was at sea when the portrait was made; on his return Sarah gave Peale a number of gifts from India and China for his museum. In gratitude, Peale painted a portrait of the couple's first child, Mary, in 1791. Mary O'Donnell (61.91.1) is seated in her high chair, the holes for a restraining bar visible at left and right. The fruit in her hand is a familiar emblem of childhood, and an ornate gold and coral toy -a whistle- is attached to her waist by a ribbon.


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  • Title: Sarah Chew Elliott O'Donnell
  • Creator: Charles Willson Peale
  • Date: 1791/1791
  • Location Created: Baltimore, MD, United States
  • Provenance: Descended in the family to the eldest daughter in each generation: Lila (or Eliza) Berrett George Parke, Norfolk, 1911 or 1912; her daughter, Mary Eugenia Parke; her niece, Jane Neal Parke Batten (Mrs. Frank Batten); Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences, 1961. (The Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences became the Chrysler Museum in 1971.)
  • Physical Dimensions: 36 1/8 x 27 1/2 in. (91.8 x 69.9 cm)
  • Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Frank Batten
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas