Published: October 26, 2016
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Three unframed oval mezzotints by Charles Willson Peale of Revolutionary War notables surprised everyone at Northeast Auctions’ evening sale on October 25. Each measured 71⁄8 by 61⁄8 inches and each was published in 1787. Benjamin Franklin realized $12,650; the Marquis de Lafayette brought $17,250; and George Washington was the top seller of the group and the auction, finishing at $46,000. Each was from Peale’s “Collection of Portraits of Illustrious Personages Distinguished in the Late Revolution,” which Peale planned to be an extensive series. However, only these three, plus one other, were produced and at the time, sold for $1 unframed or $2 framed. According to Hollis Brodrick, a Portsmouth, N.H., dealer, “probably only ten or 12 copies” of each of these three are known to exist today, most in major museum collections. Each of the mezzotints had been prepared from a life portrait that Peale had painted. Brodrick said that he owned these prints “years ago” and is not aware of any recent auction sales. They were part of a consignment of historical paper and prints from a local collector.
Brodrick paid $5,980 for a rare circa 1776 printed and signed “Oath Renouncing Allegiance to King George III and Pledging to Support American Independence.” The document also swore allegiance to the state of New Hampshire and was signed by five men. Brodrick said that “few survive today.” A rare 1779 mezzotint, “Paul Jones Shooting a Sailor Who Had Attempted to Strike His Colours in an Engagement,” earned $5,520. The scene depicts John Paul Jones, known as the father of the American Navy, shooting a seaman on his ship who wanted to surrender during a battle with the British ship H.M.S. Serapis. A carved gilt pine stool, with four displayed eagles centering a tree trunk, and a stars and stripes border, possibly made in Portsmouth by Laban Beecher, achieved $6,670.
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