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Charles Willson Peale, from life, c. 1781-1784

Oil on canvas. H 22, W 19 in (H 55.9, W 48.3 cm)
Independence NHP
INDE 11886

About the Man
About this Portrait:
Charles Willson Peale may have painted his museum portrait of Jones as early as 1781. Jones wears the French Cross of the Institution of Military Merit [the gold medal hanging from blue ribbon through top left buttonhole]. Louis XVI presented this medal to him in 1780. Early in the following year, Jones returned to Philadelphia, where Congress confirmed his acceptance of the French decoration. Peale knew of the congressional honor and he may have taken Jones's portrait during the six-month period in 1781 when the captain was in America to receive it. On the other hand, Jones returned to Philadelphia in 1783; that may have been the occasion of this portrait. The portrait is listed in Peale's October 13, 1784 Freeman's Journal and Pennsylvania Daily Advertiser announcement of the museum. Jones and his exploits provided Peale with material for an additional museum endeavor. In 1786, the artist made the Gallant Action of Paul Jones in Taking the Serapis the topic of a painting for his moving picture exhibition.

Ownership History:
Listed in the 1795 Peale Museum catalog. Purchased by the City of Philadelphia at the 1854 Peale Museum sale.

ohn Paul (he added "Jones" later) was born in Kirkbean, Scotland. He attended parish school and then went to sea as an apprentice. Within four years, he captained his own trading ship, sailing between English ports and the West Indies. During the early 1770s, he was involved in a series of controversial command decisions that resulted in the deaths of two crewmembers. He fled to America. In 1775, he moved to Philadelphia under the name of John Paul Jones. There, he obtained a Continental navy appointment and captained several ships in raids against the British. In 1776, he commanded a worn-out French merchant ship, which he renamed the Bonhomme Richard (after Benjamin Franklin's nom de plume ;Poor Richard”), against the British frigate Serapis. Jones's refusal to accept defeat in this battle, even as his ship sank with nearly all her guns disabled, was one of the Continental navy's most celebrated victories during the Revolution.

fter the Revolution, Jones lived in France, where his naval exploits gained him the reputation of a romantic, swashbuckling privateer. Despite his appointment as commander of the Russian fleet against the Turks in 1788, he continued to consider himself an American citizen. Jones died in Paris. In 1913, his remains were reinterred in the U.S. Naval Academy chapel in Annapolis.

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Last Modified: Wednesday, October 17, 2001