Portrait of Helen Miller (Mrs. Charles G. McLean)

Rembrandt Peale (American, 1778-1860)

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The sitter is posed in a romantic setting wearing fashionable attire, but Peale did not soften her intense gaze or prominent nose.

Helen and her husband founded McLean Seminary, a girls' school in Indianapolis.

Peale was a member of a Philadelphia family of prominent American painters.

Curatorial Summary

Rembrandt Peale was born the second son and third surviving child of Charles Willson Peale in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He began to draw under the tutelage of his father. At age thirteen, the young Peale executed his first self-portrait. Four years later, he painted the last portrait of George Washington from life. This work marked the beginning of Peale’s career as a professional portraitist. He also painted neoclassical subjects on occasion, with limited success. Peale’s oeuvre consists of over 1,200 paintings, making him one of the most prolific American artists of his time.

In Portrait of Helen Miller (Mrs. Charles G. McLean), Peale renders the sitter realistically, against an idealized, mountainous landscape. Dr. Charles McLean, a Presbyterian minister, married Miss Miller in 1815, and the couple moved to Indianapolis where they founded a girls’ school known as the McLean Seminary. This painting is one of a series by Rembrandt Peale depicting members of the Miller family, including Helen’s mother, father, and three sisters. All the sisters married Presbyterian ministers.


Miller, Lillian B. In Pursuit of Fame: Rembrandt Peale 1778-1860. Washington, DC: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1992.

Painted by commission from the sitter's father. Hellen Miller McLean and her husband, Charles McLean, Head of Indiana Female Seminary/McLean Seminary (1852-1860), moved to Indianapolis, Indiana after 1815. The painting was hung in the McLean Seminary until 1929 when it was donated to the John Herron Art Institute, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, by alumni in 1929.

Object Information

Rembrandt Peale (American, 1778-1860)
creation date
about 1806
oil on canvas
27-1/4 x 22-1/4 in. (canvas)
33-15/16 x 29 x 3-1/4 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
not inscribed
accession number
credit line
Gift of Fifteen Pupils of McLean Seminary
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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