American Paintings and Sculpture
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Artist: Raphaelle Peale, American, 1774–1825

Commander Samuel Woodhouse (1784–1843)


Watercolor on ivory

2 7/16 × 2 in. (6.2 × 5.1 cm)
Gift of Davida Tenenbaum Deutsch and Alvin Deutsch, LL.B. 1958, in honor of Kathleen Luhrs

Raphaelle Peale’s portrait of Commander Samuel Woodhouse represents the artist’s mature style as a miniaturist, exhibiting varied brushstrokes and techniques: subtraction to uncover the luminous ivory beneath the watercolor, sgraffito in the hair to create a lively wiriness, and a subtle blending of carmine and vermillion in the lips that advances far beyond the conventional appearance of his earliest miniatures. Although the artist had largely turned his attention to still life by this time, his portrayal of Woodhouse demonstrates his sensitive observation of human nature.

Woodhouse’s decision to appear in naval attire provides the key to the miniature’s significance and date. A comparison of his uniform to official navy guidelines reveals that he is dressed as a master commandant, with one epaulette on his right shoulder and no buttons on his collar. Having entered the navy as a midshipman in 1801 and risen to lieutenant in 1808, Woodhouse achieved the rank of master commandant on April 27, 1816. Peale probably painted the miniature that year, or in 1817 during Commander Woodhouse’s furlough in Philadelphia before the artist left that city for Norfolk during the summer. An inscription on the locket’s reverse reflects Woodhouse’s pride in the promotion that was shared with the miniature’s likely owner, his wife Mathilda. In both civilian and military conventions, a standing collar is more formal than the rolling collar worn by Woodhouse, which defines his appearance here in naval terms as “undress” rather than “full dress.” This relative informality is in keeping with the miniature’s personal nature. While her absent husband served his country, Mathilda could look at his portrait and imagine him aboard the ship pictured in the background.

Although the precise identity of this ship is unknown, it may be the Constitution, to which Woodhouse was assigned on May 28, 1810. During the War of 1812, the American press exulted over victories at sea by the Constitution. Woodhouse’s conduct aboard the ship during its stunning victory over the British frigate Java probably led to the promotion commemorated by the miniature. Shortly after the completion of his portrait, Woodhouse commanded ships that traveled to Brazil and India. Commander Woodhouse took charge of the Hornet in 1826 and was promoted to captain the following year. Fortunately, he was on leave two years later when the Hornet foundered in a gale and sank, killing its entire crew. Captain Woodhouse died peacefully in his sleep on his farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1843.

Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Not on view
19th century
Miniatures - Jewelry

The sitter; by descent to his grandson, Dr. Samuel W. Woodhouse, Jr., Philadelphia, until 1943; offered for sale with his collection at Samuel T. Freeman and Co., Philadelphia, November 14, 1934, lot 54 (misattributed to Joseph Wood); auctioned with Collection of the Late Dr. Samuel W. Woodhouse, Jr., at Samuel T. Freeman and Co., Philadelphia, November 16, 1943, lot 314 (misattributed to Joseph Wood); sold to Mrs. G. V. Curtis. Jacqueline Hildebrand; sold to Davida Tenenbaum Deutsch and Alvin Deutsch, New York.


“Acquisitions, July 1, 2006–June 30, 2007,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2007): 191, ill.

Art for Yale: Collecting for a New Century, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2007), 73, pl. 54.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.