Captain John Pratt (1753-1824)


Ralph Earl ( American, 1751 - 1801 )

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General Description

The portrait of Captain John Pratt owes much to the biographies of both the sitter and the artist. The paper Pratt prominently brandishes in his left hand is his commission from George Washington as captain of the First Regiment of the United States Army (1990.146.2). On his Continental Army uniform, he wears a medal indicating membership in the Society of the Cincinnati, a then-elitist group of veterans. The viewer is thus reminded both of Pratt’s past and his continuing service to his newly founded country.

Conversely, the structure in the background—the town-hall of Middletown, Connecticut—is a reminder of Ralph Earl’s own history and artistic loyalties. Although linked with the portraits Earl painted in Connecticut, the motif is borrowed from topographical landscape paintings of British country houses, which Earl discovered while in England from 1778 to 1785 (loyal to the British cause, Earl left America during the Revolutionary War). Furthermore, the somewhat flat effect of the figure of Pratt relates to Earl’s rejection of the painterly effects of British portraiture, even while he adopted its background details and full-length format.

Adapted from

William Keyse Rudolph, DMA Label copy (1990.146.1), May 2006.

Fun Facts

  • John Pratt's pose relates to Ralph Earl's earlier military portraits, particularly Major General Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus, Baron von Steuben (1730 - 1794) (c. 1786, Yale University Art Gallery), a founder of the Society of the Cincinnati. However, Earl included elements specific to Pratt in his portrait. The house and regional landscape in the background and the prominent paper in Pratt's hand enhance the sense of specificity.

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