Captain John Pratt (1753-1824)

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. 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 Middletown, Connecticut, town hall-is a compositional 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 after the end of the Revolution). 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.

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