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Charles Willson Peale, from life, c. 1784

Oil on canvas. H 23, W 19 in (H 58.4, W 48.2 cm)
Independence NHP
INDE 14081

About the Man
About this Portrait:
Charles Willson Peale painted Knox's museum portrait in the spring of 1784, when Knox came to Philadelphia for the first national meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati. At that time, Major Pierre L'Enfant brought the Society members their newly cast medals from Paris. Knox wears his in the museum portrait [on the blue and white ribbon in the upper left buttonhole.] Although the Knox portrait appears on Peale's October 13, 1784 Freeman's Journal and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser announcement of the museum's contents, the painting has a format different from that of other contemporary Peale Museum examples. Before the early 19th century, Peale left the museum portraits unpainted at the corners because those areas were covered by oval spandrels within each frame. As a result, the Cincinnati medal on Knox's left lapel was obscured when the portrait hung in the museum. Another inconsistency in the Knox portrait is that the right epaulette has been substantively overpainted, as if to reflect the addition of a star to it. But Knox had received his promotion to Brigadier General in the spring of 1782, and would have used two stars on each epaulette from that time onward.

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

nox was born in Boston on July 25, 1750. He attended the Boston Latin School but left to work in a bookstore. At the start of the Revolution, he quickly became a close advisor to General George Washington. Washington sent him to retrieve the British artillery captured at Fort Ticonderoga. Later, he marched with Washington in the retreat up Manhattan Island, at Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, Yorktown, Valley Forge, and Morristown. Knox briefly succeeded Washington as Commander-in-Chief, following the latter's retirement in 1783. He initiated the formation of the Society of the Cincinnati, a fraternity of American and French officers of the Revolution.

nox was the first Secretary of War, entering the office in 1785 and remaining there for a decade. He supported the proposal for a federal Constitutional Convention, persuading the reluctant Washington to attend it. Later, he initiated the construction of the first ships built for the U.S. Navy. Knox retired from public office in 1796 and died at his estate near Thomaston, Maine, on October 25, 1806.

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Last Modified: Wednesday, September 10, 2003