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The Court of Death, 1820

  • Rembrandt Peale, American, 1778-1860

Oil on canvas

  • Unframed: 11 feet 6 inches × 23 feet 5 inches (3 m 50.5 cm × 7 m 13.7 cm)
  • 12 feet 8 inches × 24 feet 7 inches × 7 inches (3 m 86.1 cm × 7 m 49.3 cm × 17.8 cm)

Gift of George H. Scripps


On View

  • American W284


American Art before 1950

Rembrandt Peale chose to paint a subject intended to be a moral statement for contemporary times. The work is based on a poem by an Anglican bishop describing how mortal man is called by death. To the far left of the central figure of Death are War and his agents, who trample over the bodies of his victims, a widow and an orphan. To Death’s right is a mass of humanity representing sins from intemperance to suicide, all of which are associated with those who have died from leading decadent lives. Below the feet of Death is the body of a man cut down in the prime of life, which demonstrates the power Death holds over everyone. Approaching the central figure is Old Age, who is supported by Faith and, after leading a long, productive, and pious life, welcomes Death with outstretched arms.

1858, G. Q. Cotton (Philadelphia, Pennsylavania, USA). by 1879, sold to Samuel A. Coale, Jr. (St. Louis, Missouri, USA)

1885, purchased by George H. Scripps (Detroit, Michigan, USA)

1885-present, gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)

Dunlap. Arts of Design II. New York, 1834, p. 54. Tuckerman, H. T. Book of the Artists. New York, 1867, p. 62. Benjamin, S.G.W. Art in America. New York, 1880, p. 28. Strahan, Edward, ed. Art Treasures of America. Philadelphia, 1880, p. 54. Bulletin of the DMA 4 (1910): p. 38. Bryant, Lorinsa Munson. What Pictures to See in America. New York, 1915, pp. 234-235. LaFollette, S. Art in America. 1929, p. 71. Bulletin of the DIA 23, no. 7 (1944): p. 57 (ill.). Sellers, Charles Coleman. “The Pale Horse on the Road.” Antiques (May 1954): p. 385. Exhibition of Paintings by Rembrandt Peale. Exh. cat., Municipal Museum of Baltimore. Baltimore, 1937, no. 8. The World of the Romantic Artist. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1944, no. 29. Barker, Virgil. American Painting. New York, 1950, pp. 335-336 (pl. 46). The Peale Family: Three Generations of American Artists. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1967, p. 114, no. 167 (ill.) Canaday, John. The Lives of the Painters, Vol. 4. London, 1969, pl. 216. Isham, Samuel. American Painting. New York, 1905, p. 125. American Narrative Painting. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum. Los Angeles, 1974, p. 11 (fig. 3). Bulletin of the DMA 4, 3 (1910): p. 139 (ill.). Miller, L.B. “The Peale Family.” Smithsonian 10 (April 1979): p. 72 (ill.). Craven, W. “The Grand Manner in Early 19th Century Painting.” American Art Journal (April 1979): p. 41 (ill.). Benjamin West and His American Students. Exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery. Washington, D.C., 1980, no. 147 (ill.). Bellion, Wendy. Citizen Spectator: Art, Illusion, and Visual Perception in Early National America. Chapel Hill, 2011, p. 285 (fig. 69).

Rembrandt Peale, The Court of Death, 1820, oil on canvas. Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of George H. Scripps, 85.3.