Pat Lyon at the Forge

John Neagle

During the weekend of August 31-September 1, 1798, a bank robbery occurred in which $162,821 was stolen from the Bank of Pennsylvania. Although he had been in Lewiston (now Lewes), Delaware, at the time, trying to avoid yellow fever in the city, British-born blacksmith Pat Lyon (1779-1829) was arrested for the crime. Because he had made the locks for the vault's doors, Lyon was the prime suspect. After three months in jail, Lyon was released when the real culprit, Isaac Davis, confessed. Lyon not only wrote a best-selling book about the incident, he went on to sue the bank and police for false imprisonment - a landmark case in U. S. legal history. Lyon was eventually rewarded twelve thousand dollars in damages. When he commissioned his portrait in 1825, Lyon chose to be represented not as the gentleman he had become, but in his apron, at work. The red-headed blacksmith is imposing, yet accessible, commanding the viewer's attention as surely as he does his admiring apprentice. The cupola in the left background represents the Walnut Street Jail, where Lyon had unjustly languished nearly thirty years before. The Academy's portrait is one of six versions of the subject executed by Neagle, a former coach painter who later studied with Bass Otis and his future father-in-law Thomas Sully, before embarking upon a long and successful portrait practice in Philadelphia.
Date of Birth
Oil on canvas
framed: 116 x 88 x 6 in. (294.64 x 223.52 x 15.24 cm.); unframed: 94 1/2 x 68 1/2 in. (240.03 x 173.99 cm.)
Accession #
Credit Line
Gift of the Lyon Family