Mr. and Mrs. John B. Bayard

These portraits of colonial Americans have a mysterious purpose. Take a deeper dive into the works.

John B. Bayard (1781) by Charles Willson PealeMilwaukee Art Museum

John B. Bayard
The subject of this portrait, John B. Bayard, and the artist, Charles Willson Peale, were lifelong friends. Both were in the military during the Revolutionary War (1775–83).

Afterward, Bayard became a politician. Peale was a politician, entrepreneur, and scientist (he founded the nation’s first natural history museum, which no longer survives). Although they later became political rivals, they maintained their friendship.

Legal texts
The legal texts pictured with Bayard in his study speak to his career as a politician. Artists often included clues as to the profession or interests of their portrait subjects.

Newspaper
If you look closely, you can read not only the name of the paper on Bayard’s side table but also its date. This is The Pennsylvania Packet of July 29, 1780.

This may refer to Bayard’s election to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council in that year.

Framed print
Including a framed print was a common way to indicate that the person in the portrait was worldly and cultured. But the subject here, of a cloaked, weeping woman before a young couple, seems to have a curious dark tone to it.

Margaret Hodge, Mrs. John B. Bayard (1780) by Charles Willson PealeMilwaukee Art Museum

Mrs. John B. Bayard
Margaret Hodge, Bayard’s wife, appears less formal in her portrait than her husband: she wears no corset and her hair is down.

Bible
Just as in the newspaper in Bayard’s portrait, you can read the exact page this Bible is open to: Proverbs 31, a popular verse about womanly virtues.

The most well-known line is: “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.” Margaret is turning the page on this line, however, which provides some comic relief and perhaps a glimpse into her personality.

Margaret’s portrait
Margaret Hodge Bayard died in April of 1780 at age sixty. Her portrait was made before her husband’s, but we don’t know whether it was made while she was still alive, or whether it was a posthumous (post-death) painting commissioned by her husband to commemorate her life.

Certain clues support the latter theory: The print hanging on the wall in Bayard’s portrait could hint at Bayard’s sadness at his wife’s passing, and Margaret’s act of turning the page of the Bible in her portrait could indicate her moving on to the next stage.

Credits: Story

Charles Willson Peale
(American, 1741–1827)
John B. Bayard and Margaret Hodge, Mrs. John B. Bayard, 1781
Oil on canvas
50 1/8 × 40 3/8 in. (127.32 × 102.55 cm)
Purchase, with funds from the Leonard and Bebe LeVine Art Acquisition Fund, the Virginia Booth Vogel Fund, and gift by exchange of Mr. and Mrs. Robert V. Krikorian and other donors
M2012.292, M2012.293

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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