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James Peale, Sarah Smith Logan (Mrs. William Clarke) (c. 1808)

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Sarah Smith Logan (Mrs. William Clarke) (c. 1808) by James Peale.

About the Work

Title : Sarah Smith Logan (Mrs. William Clarke)
Artist : James Peale
Year : c. 1808
Medium : Oil on canvas
Dimensions : 74.3 × 61.6 cm (29 1/4 × 24 1/4 in.)
Location : Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Portrait of Sarah Smith Logan

Commissioning portraits was common amongst royalty, aristocrats and the elites of the West in the 17th – 19th centuries. Getting a portrait of oneself or a family member was a kind of status symbol, and anyone who could afford it would get it done. In fact, so common was the trend that many artists earned their primary livelihood through such commissions.

As people paid good money to have their likeness or that of a loved one painted, they left it to the artist’s discretion to make them ‘look good’. The aim was not to paint a true likeness; it was to paint one that was aesthetically pleasing. Thus, often artists would adjust facial features or even completely change the sitter’s garb to make them resemble royalty.

James Peale’s portrait of Sarah Smith Logan shows the artist’s skill and attention to detail. The lady wears a blue dress with a fine mesh draped over it. A gentle smile on her lips as her brown locks frame her forehead and face. The muddy background makes the colour of her dress stand out.

Other Details

James Peale’s Sarah Smith Logan (Mrs. William Clarke)  is housed in the Harvard Art Museums in Room 2410. It is part of the museum’s collection of the South Arcade.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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