Charles Willson Peale was a major figure in American science and art during the revolutionary period. His faith in the educational value of art led him to establish a painting academy in Philadelphia as early as 1795. When that venture failed, Peale combined his scientific and artistic interests in a museum.
In 1788, the Lamings had asked him to do this double portrait. Peale's diary records his activity from 18 September, when he "sketched out the design" after dinner, to 5 October, when he added the final touches. Besides working on the picture, Peale studied natural history at the family's estate outside Baltimore.
Peale cleverly devised a leaning posture for the husband so that his bulk would not overshadow his petite wife. Moreover, this unusual, reclining attitude binds the couple closer together, telling of their love.
The setting, "view of part of Baltimore Town," is appropriate for a wealthy Maryland merchant. The spyglass indicates Laming's interest in shippage by sea, and the green parrot perched behind his leg may recall his birth in the West Indies. Mrs. Laming's fruit and flowers, although traditional emblems of innocence and fertility, could also refer to her own gardening. The detailed attention paid to the bird, plants, scenery, and telescope attests to Peale's encyclopedic knowledge.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, pages 120-128, which is available as a free PDF at https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/american-paintings-18th-century.pdf