Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Peale, a Plant, and a Pot Update

As a number of my readers may remember, earlier this year I posted a story titled A Peale, a Plant, and a Pot, about finding a clay pot modeled after one containing a geranium that appears in the portrait of Rubens Peale, painted by his brother Rembrandt Peale in 1801, in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  In the post I described a trip that Boy and I made to the studio of potter Guy Wolff, who made the pot--known as a Peale pot--to purchase it in several sizes (along with a number of his other beautiful pots and vessels).  And where, serendipitously, I received a gift of a cutting of the geranium that appears in the painting, given to me by Erica Wolff, Guy's wife and business partner.  For the Wolffs had been given a cutting of it by the horticultural curator at Monticello, who did so when he learned that the Wolffs were making such a pot.  Apparently, Thomas Jefferson had received a cutting of the geranium from Rubens Peale, and its offspring resided in the collection at Monticello.  So, not only did I come away from the Wolff studio with a Peale pot, but I also came away with a cutting of the very geranium depicted in the painting.  It was all so deliciously--and unexpectedly--six degrees of separation.

But in Reggie's case it was not six degrees that separated him from Rubens Peale, but only three: the Wolffs, Monticello's horticultural curator, and Thomas Jefferson.  Well, maybe--Reggie isn't exactly clear about what happened to the geranium between Thomas Jefferson's death and when it was then passed on to the Wolffs.  But he is happy not to delve too deeply into that because he likes the story as it is just fine, thank you.

And I am pleased to show you my Peale-potted geranium several months later, sporting its very first flowering.  It is now well established and has put on a lot of growth over the summer.  I had been warned by Mrs. Wolff that it is a rangey, healthy plant that, once-established, grows like Topsy, requiring regular cutting back.  Such a reputation is well founded, I can say with assurance.  I plan on repotting the geranium soon in a larger Peale pot that I have waiting for it and also pruning it back to promote bushier growth, as Mrs. Wolff advised me when she gave me the cutting.

I cherish this storied geranium, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have it at Darlington House.  I don't intend on keeping it only to myself, either.  For I plan on passing on cuttings of it to like-minded friends for as long as I have the pleasure of owning it.

Please click on the link noted above to see the original story, as well as for contact information for Guy Wolff Pottery

Photos by Boy Fenwick


  1. I loved this story- and now even more! so tender. pgt

  2. Dear Reggie, What a most intriguing story. Hand made terracotta pots are indeed things of beuty to be cherished for ever and how wonderful to have a collection of them in all different sizes.

    If I may be so bold, I think that your 'geranium' is correctly a pelargonium since it would seem to me to be a tender rather than a hardy plant. Nonetheless, it is elegantly pretty and a beautiful brick red which tones so well with the GW pot.

  3. Edith Hope: You may well be correct as I believe there is rampant confusion regarding the distinction between geraniums and a pelargoniums, which are often called scented geraniums in the nurseries where they are sold. I called mine a geranium as that is what it is referred to as in the name of the painting, which I now recollect reading somewhere was not exactly an accurate description to begin with ... But I have also read that pelargoniums were referred to as geraniums in the day when when Rubens Peale owned his. Thank you.

  4. Beautiful! It looks so happy to be living in it's wonderful Peale pot.

  5. Beautiful Peal pot, delightful geranium. A good snag, indeed.


  6. well, what a delightful story. They are where they should be, to be loved and treasured by you. Best Always, Joyce

  7. I love the story and I love the link to Mr. W's website...especially the youtube videos. I throw pottery but I haven't done much since I got married.
    This has lit a fire (pun intended) under me to break out the mud again.
    I think I will have to buy a pot or two for inspiration as well.


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