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Philadelphia Museum of Art Acquires Early 19th Century Portrait of an African American by Charles Willson Peale

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has acquired the painting Yarrow Mamout, 1819, an exceptionally rare portrait of an African-American by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), one of the most renowned American artists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Depicting an aged man who had been born in Guinea in western Africa, taken into slavery in the American colonies and later manumitted, or freed by his owner, it is one of the very earliest known works to depict a freed slave in the United States and the earliest known painting of a Muslim in America. Upon its completion, Yarrow Mamout was exhibited at Peale’s Museum, in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where it could be seen alongside other works by the artist and his son Rembrandt that represented George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Lewis and Clark, David Rittenhouse, and many other accomplished individuals. Measuring 24 x 20 inches, this new acquisition has today been placed on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, just off the Great Stair Hall in the first gallery toward the American Wing. It has been purchased from the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent.

“The name Charles Willson Peale is closely associated with Philadelphia’s prominence as the leading artistic center in late 18th- and early 19th-century America,” said Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Although Peale’s work is well represented in our collection, his portrait of Yarrow Mamout is distinctive by virtue of the fact that it is one of the earliest and certainly one of the most sympathetic portraits of an African-American to be found in the history of American art. Peale was especially drawn to this remarkable man, not only because of his advanced age (he was reputed to be 140 years old) but also because of his remarkable personal history: a freed slave who had achieved prosperity and was well known to the citizens of Washington, D.C., where the artist painted this portrait. It is an exceptional painting that tells an equally exceptional story.”

The Philadelphia Museum of Art owns the most comprehensive collection of works by Charles Willson Peale and his legendary family of artists, including his brother James, his sons Raphaelle, Rembrandt, and Titian, and his numerous grandchildren. “This painting adds a new dimension to our collection of Peale’s work at the end of his life, when he enjoyed a spectacular artistic renaissance,” said Kathleen A. Foster, the Robert L. McNeil Jr. Senior Curator of American Art. “Peale brought a lifetime of skillful and compassionate observation to bear on his representation of Yarrow Mamout, who returns his gaze warmly, with an expression of wisdom, patience, and a twinkle of solidarity in his eyes. We find it wonderful that Peale so esteemed Yarrow and added his portrait to the gallery of distinguished individuals in his museum.”

About the Peale collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Museum’s collection now includes over 150 objects by America’s first artistic dynasty, including important recent gifts and promised gifts from Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Representing all aspects of the Peale family’s work, the Museum’s holdings include many portraits, from ambitious life-size images in oil to small jewel-like miniatures, drawings, engravings, and cut-paper silhouettes. Landscapes and works demonstrating the family’s engagement with various aspects of natural science accompany a rich selection of still life pictures by the genre’s first American masters, Raphaelle and James Peale. According to Carol Soltis, Project Associate Curator in American Art and author of the forthcoming publication on the collection, The Art of the Peales: Adaptations and Innovations, this is “a collection that showcases both the individual excellence and the communal interests of the Peales as they sought to respond to and shape the evolving tastes and interests of their American audience.”

For general information, call (215) 763-8100 or visit the Museum’s website at

Image: Portrait of Yarrow Mamout (Muhammad Yaro), 1819. Charles Willson Peale, American, 1741 – 1827. Oil on canvas. 24 x 20 inches (61 x 50.8 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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