John Beale Bordley, a close friend of Charles Willson Peale, raised the funds in 1766 to send the young artist to London, where Peale trained under Benjamin West's tutelage. In the stormy years before the American Revolution, Bordley was a Maryland planter, judge, and member of the Governor's Council. A fervent republican, he gave Peale his first major commission -- for life-size, symbolic portraits that were to be exhibited in London as declarations of colonial opposition.
The portrait addresses two political issues: America's agricultural self-sufficiency, and her fair treatment. The first of these concepts is referred to in the background, which depicts Bordley's plantation on Wye Island in the Chesapeake Bay. A peach tree and a packhorse signify America's abundance, while the grazing sheep speak for freedom from imported, British woolens. The theme of tyranny dominates the foreground. Bordley, trained as a lawyer, assumes an attitude of debate, raising his hand in a gesture of argumentation. He points to a statue of British Liberty holding the scales of justice, reminding English viewers that the colonists lived under British law and, thus, were entitled to the rights it guaranteed. That Britain had violated these rights is signified by the legal document, torn and discarded at Bordley's feet. A poisonous plant at the statue's base -- the native American jimson weed -- warns of the deadly consequences of any attack on American civil liberties.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, which is available as a free PDF at https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/american-paintings-18th-century.pdf
along top right corner of rock in right foreground: Peale / land / 70
Edmund Jenings [1731-1819], London, the sitter's half-brother. L. LeRoy Highbaugh, Sr. [1889-1965], and L. LeRoy Highbaugh, Jr. [b. 1928], Louisville, Kentucky; gift of Mr. and Mrs. LeRoy Highbaugh, Jr., to The Stetson University, Deland and St. Petersburg, Florida, 1973. (Kennedy Galleries, New York, 1973); purchased 1974 by the Barra Foundation, Inc., Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania; gift 1984 to NGA.
- Art in Florida Public Collections, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, 1962, as Portrait of a Lawyer by Joseph Badger.
- Inaugural Exhibition, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1965, no. 3, as Portrait of an Unidentified Lawyer by Charles Willson Peale.
- Philadelphia Painting and Printing to 1776, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1971, no. 24.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1974-1984
- Charles Willson Peale and His World, National Portrait Gallery, Washington; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1982-1983, no. 5.
- The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy 1770-1870, Philadelphia Museum of Art; M. H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1996-1997, fig. 27 (not in checklist; shown only in Philadelphia).
- Sellers, Charles Coleman. Portraits and Miniatures by Charles Willson Peale. Philadelphia, 1952: 36-37, no. 61 (unlocated).
- Art in Florida Public Collections. Exh. cat. John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, 1962: as Portrait of a Lawyer by Joseph Badger.
- Inaugural Exhibition. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1965: no. 3, as Portrait of an Unidentified Lawyer by Charles Willson Peale.
- Sellers, Charles Coleman. Charles Willson Peale. New York, 1969: 81-86, fig. 22.
- Sellers, Charles Coleman. Charles Willson Peale With Patron and Populace. Philadelphia, 1969: 55-56, cat. SP8, fig. 2.
- Sellers, Charles Coleman. "The Jimson Weed Warning: Charles Willson Peale and John Beale Bordley." Pharos 7, nos. 2 and 3 (Summer-Fall 1969): 20-25, repro., cover.
- Philadelphia Painting and Printing to 1776. Exh. cat. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1971: no. 24.
- Miller, Lillian B., et al., eds. The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family. 5 vols. New Haven and London, 1983-2000: 1(1983):88, 92-98, 103.
- Richardson, Edgar P., "Charles Willson Peale and His World," In Richardson, Hindle, and Miller 1983 (see artist's biography): 38, 40, 43, 244, 39, pl. 5, and 177-179, 280.
- Hart, Sidney. "A Graphic Case of Transatlantic Republicanism." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 109, no. 2 (April 1985): 203-213, fig. 2. Reprinted in Miller and Ward 1991.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 64, repro.
- Miller, Lillian B. and David C. Ward, eds. Perspectives on Charles Willson Peale. Pittsburgh, 1991: 145-165, fig. 5.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 254, repro.
- Lawson, Karol Ann Peard. "Charles Willson Peale's John Dickinson: An American Landscape as Political Allegory." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 136, no. 4 (December 1992): 460, 462 (fig. 4), 463, 484-485.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 209, repro.
- Miles, Ellen G. American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1995: 113-117, color repro. 115.