This portrait of Richard Henry Lee, the Virginia delegate to Congress who introduced the resolution of independence and was one of the Virginia signers of the Declaration of Independence, is a copy by Anne Christina Fletcher (1876–1955) from an original life painting by Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827). Peale was a much sought-after portraitist in the early republic who painted more than a thousand portraits of elite and influential men and women. Peale was born in Maryland and studied art in England. He painted Lee's portrait in 1784 when Lee was elected president of the Confederation Congress. The artist kept that original painting and gave Lee a copy several years later. Members of the Lee family gave it to the National Portrait Gallery more than a hundred years later. In a time before movies or television, or even photography, paintings and printed drawings were the only way to view a person from afar.
Lee was a prominent Virginia planter and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress. Throughout the American Revolution, he played a pivotal role in politics. He introduced the resolution to declare independence from Great Britain and signed the Declaration of Independence. Lee was a prominent member of the House of Burgesses before the American Revolution and served in the House of Delegates during the war. Before, during, and after the war, he was a member of Congress and in 1789 was elected one of the first members of the United States Senate.
In 1887 when the state government was acquiring portraits of Virginia governors and other distinguished patriots, it purchased a copy of Peale's painting of Lee by artist William Ludwell Sheppard (1833–1912), but it was destroyed in a fire in the governor's mansion in 1926. The state then commissioned Anne Fletcher, an artist who lived in New York and Richmond, to paint this copy of Peale's Lee.
1. What do you think Richard Henry Lee was thinking about when he sat for this portrait?
2. Do people still dress like Richard Henry Lee was dressed? What specifically is different in his style?
1. How does this painting compare with the portrait of Thomas Jefferson? How about with the portrait of King George III?
2. Consider what was going on in Richard Henry Lee's life when he sat for this painting. Does his expression convey any emotion (confidence, anxiety, apprehension, courage, etc.) that could be attributed to the contemporary events?
The portrait is a copy by Anne Fletcher of an original painting by Charles Willson Peale, owned in 1927 by Lawrence R. Lee (presently owned by the National Portrait Gallery). It was painted as a replacement for the portrait by William Ludwell Sheppard (1833–1912) that was destroyed by a fire at the Executive Mansion in 1926.
McGaughy, J. Kent. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia: A Portrait of an American Revolutionary. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, Publishers, 2004.