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David Rittenhouse

Artist
Charles Willson Peale, 15 Apr 1741 - 22 Feb 1827
Sitter
David Rittenhouse, 8 Apr 1732 - 26 Jun 1796
Date
1796
Type
Painting
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
Sight: 124.5 x 100.3 x 2.5cm (49 x 39 1/2 x 1")
Frame: 147.3 x 121.9 x 8.9cm (58 x 48 x 3 1/2")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; bequest of Stanley P. Sax
Object number
NPG.98.73
Exhibition Label
Born near Germantown, Pennsylvania
A child prodigy who received no formal education, David Rittenhouse became one of early America’s most respected scientists. Rittenhouse made his living as a clock- and instrument-maker but achieved international fame when he organized the American Philosophical Society’s participation to measure the transit of Venus. This allowed astronomers to more accurately measure distances to celestial objects. Rittenhouse’s published observations, along with those of other American scientists, attracted favorable reactions in Europe, bringing a new recognition of American scientific achievement.
Benjamin Franklin bequeathed to Rittenhouse a reflecting telescope made by James Short of London. Charles Willson Peale may have intended to reference that telescope in this portrait but did not provide enough details for a definitive identification. In particular, he did not include the adjusting rod used to move the secondary mirror inside the tube of a telescope of this sort.
Nacido cerca de Germantown, Pennsylvania
Niño prodigio sin educación formal, David Rittenhouse llegó a ser uno de los científicos más respetados en los primeros tiempos de la nación estadounidense. Se ganaba la vida como relojero y constructor de instrumentos científicos, pero adquirió notoriedad internacional cuando coordinó la participación de la Sociedad Filosófica Americana en la medición del tránsito de Venus entre el sol y la tierra. Este evento permitió a los astrónomos medir con más precisión las distancias hacia los cuerpos celestes. Las observaciones de Rittenhouse, publicadas junto a las de otros científicos estadounidenses, recibieron una acogida favorable en Europa y fomentaron un mayor reconocimiento de los logros científicos estadounidenses.
Benjamin Franklin legó a Rittenhouse un telescopio reflector fabricado por James Short, de Londres. Es posible que Charles Willson Peale haya intentado aludir al telescopio en este retrato, pero no proporcionó suficientes detalles para poder identificarlo de manera contundente. En específico, no incluyó la varilla de ajuste que se usa para mover el espejo secundario dentro del tubo de observación en este tipo de instrumento.
Provenance
Purchased from artist by Edward Savage, 1796-1817; probably purchased with the contents of Savage's Museum by Ethan Allen Greenwood for his New England Museum, Boston, 1818; purchased by Moses Kimball for his Boston Museum, 1839. The Brook Club, New York City, by 1907; purchased by Thomas Sovreign Gates by 1945 for his wife, Emma Barton Waller Gates, a Rittenhouse descendant; her son, James Waller; his estate; (Robert Eldred Auction House, Hyannis, Mass.), March 29, 1986; purchased by (Schwarz Gallery, Philadelphia) for Stanley P. Sax; bequest to NPG 1998.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
Exhibition
American Origins
On View
NPG, East Gallery 144
Place
United States\Pennsylvania\Philadelphia\Philadelphia