Peale Family

from The New Book of Knowledge®


Peale is the name of a distinguished family of American painters who flourished in the 1700's and 1800's.

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), born in Queen Anne's County, Maryland, was a leading portrait painter. He taught himself to paint as a young man, after learning saddle making, clock repair, and several other trades. In 1766 he went to London to study with the American painter Benjamin West. During the Revolutionary War, Peale fought with the Philadelphia militia. Resuming his painting career after the war, he painted portraits of famous Americans of his day, notably George Washington. In 1782 he opened a portrait gallery next to his home.

Peale had many scientific interests, including archaeology, engineering, and taxidermy, and he patented several inventions. In 1786 he established a natural history museum, the first of its kind in the nation. He also helped found the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1805) and the Society of Artists (1810), which were among the first professional organizations in the United States to promote the development of the arts.

Peale had 17 children, some of whom were named for famous artists. He instructed them in painting, and several became artists in their own right.

Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825) was a painter of still lifes--arrangements of fruits and flowers--which he depicted with a high degree of realism. But his masterpiece is a painting called After the Bath (1823), which showcases his ability to create a convincing illusion of reality. Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860) specialized in portraits of famous Americans, especially idealized images of George Washington. Rubens Peale (1784-1865) painted nature subjects and opened a museum in New York City. Titian Ramsay Peale (1799-1885) was a naturalist and scientific illustrator.

Charles Willson's brother James Peale (1749-1831) was also a painter. He was known particularly for his miniatures and still lifes. Three of James's daughters achieved success as painters. Anna Claypoole Peale (1791-1878) was a noted miniaturist; Margaretta Angelica Peale (1795-1882) painted still lifes; and Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-85) specialized in portraits of famous people.

Reviewed by Kenneth Haltman
New Britain (Connecticut) Museum of American Art

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