Teaching Ideas

Encouraging Dialogue

For Students K-12

  • Notice that Captain Pratt looks directly at us. How would your reaction to the painting change if his gaze were not directed straight at you?
  • Look at his facial expression and pose. Is his clothing plain or elaborate? From what Ralph Earl shows us in this painting, what kind of a person do you think Captain Pratt might be?
  • Why do you think John Pratt would want to wear his uniform while his portrait was being painted? Notice that Pratt wears a single epaulet and a badge on his lapel, this shows that he was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, a club formed of officers of the Continental Army. George Washington became the first president of the United States in 1789. On March 4, 1791, President Washington signed papers, which the Museum has in its collections, that appointed Pratt as Captain of the First Regiment of the United States Army.
  • Now take a look at the area behind the captain. At the time this painting was made, the symmetrical building in the background was a Masonic Lodge that was used as the seat of local government. Why do you think Captain Pratt chose to have this building represented in the background?
  • What does this painting tell us about how Americans saw themselves following the Revolutionary War?
  • Why do you think Captain Pratt had the artist include the dog?
  • If you were going to have your portrait painted, what would you want it to say about you? What would you be wearing? Would you be holding something special?

Making Connections

For Students K-12

  • The portrait of Captain John Pratt by Ralph Earl tells us not only about how Captain Pratt looked but also about the United States of America in the 1790s. Find a photographic portrait of a modern day American leader, such as the President of the United States, an important business person, or a famous teacher. Investigate the photograph in the same way that you investigated the portrait of Captain John Pratt. Write a short essay that compares Captain John Pratt with the modern portrait. When the group has finished, pin up the photographs that the group chose and have everyone discuss this question: "Are modern photographs just snapshots, or can they carry as much information as the portrait of Captain Pratt?"