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American men of science often exchanged portrait engravings with one another. These prints were tokens of esteem, and materialBenjamin Rush evidence of the value of correspondence and collegial regard within the transatlantic scientific community. Benjamin Franklin distributed numerous copies of Edward Fisher's mezzotint after his 1762 portrait by Chamberlin. Benjamin Rush was delighted to receive from a friend in Scotland a mezzotint of William Cullen, Rush's professor at the University of Edinburgh, just after the close of the American Revolution. Commenting on the pleasure with which he regarded the resumption of scientific correspondence with colleagues in Britain, Rush wrote, "the members of the republic of science all belong to the same family. What has physic [medical practice] to do with taxation or independence?"

Rush's portrait by Charles Willson Peale, painted around this time, includes imagery common to many portraits of contemporary men of science, imagery that defined the sitter as a scholar, retired to a cozy, darkened "closet" for study and contemplation. Regardless of the frenetic pace of Rush's professional life as a physician, writer, and lecturer, he worked with Peale to create an image of quiet reflection and composition. He is writing a lecture on the causes of earthquakes. Rush is surrounded by carefully labeled books on science, medicine, and philosophy, and wears a banyan, a long, flowing gown often worn by men at home, when they could remove their more form-fitting and constricting coats. The connotations of the banyan which appears as well in Cadwallader Colden's circa 1772 portrait with his grandson, Warren De Lancey include leisure and the life of the mind. Colden taught his daughter, Jane Colden, to categorize, describe, and draw botanical specimens from their surroundings in New York, and wrote treatises on science for his grandchildren.

Cadwallader Colden and His Grandson Warren De Lancey / Matthew Pratt / Oil on canvas / Metropolitan Museum of Art
Benjamin Rush / Charles Willson Peale / Oil on canvas / Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum
Benjamin Franklin / Edward Fisher after Mason Chamberlin / Mezzotint / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
John Morgan/ Angelica Kauffman / Oil on canvas / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
David Rittenhouse / Charles Willson Peale / Oil on canvas / American Philosophical Society

Past Exhibitions | National Portrait Gallery Home

The Republic of Science
Portraiture and the Tools of Science
Science and Liberty