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Charles Willson Peale

1741-1827

PEALE, Charles Willson, artist, born in Chestertown, Maryland, 16 April, 1741; died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 22 February, 1827. He followed for some time the trade of a saddler in Annapolis, but, having seen a portrait while visiting Norfolk, Virginia, he determined to attempt art, and on his return he executed a likeness of himself. His success induced him to change his vocation from saddle making to portrait painting. 

He lived in Boston in 1768'9, where he had some instruction from John Singleton Copley, and in 1770 he went to London, England, bearing letters to Benjamin West, who received him kindly, and whose pupil he became. In London, Peale also studied modeling in wax, casting and molding in plaster, engraving in mezzotinto, and miniature painting. 

He returned to Annapolis in 1774, began painting portraits, and two years later established himself in Philadelphia. Later he became a captain of volunteers, and was present at the battles of Trenton and Germantown. He also began to take an active interest in political affairs, and was a member of the legislature in 1779. 

Afterward he turned his attention to natural history. A manmoth that had been disinterred for him in Ulster county, N. Y., in 1801, led his mind into this new channel, and the idea of forming a museum occurred to him. He forthwith became a collector of all manner of natural curiosities, and with these, and a large number of portraits, opened, in 1802, "Peale's Museum" to the public. He gave lectures on natural history, and occupied himself also with dentistry. 

In 1791, and again in 1794, he made earnest but ineffectual endeavors to form an art academy in Philadelphia, and he lived to assist in establishing the Pennsylvania academy of the fine arts and to contribute to seventeen of its annual exhibitions. Peale is notable rather for versatility than for real genius in any direction. He took up, in turn, the making of coaches, harnesses, clocks, and watches, besides working as a silversmith, and he was also soldier, politician, naturalist, taxidermist, and dentist. It is said of him that he "sawed his own ivory for his miniatures, moulded the glasses, and made the shagreen cases." In the course of his various studies he became an author also, his writings including an essay on "Building Wooden Bridges" (1797); " Discourse Introductory to a Course of Lectures on Natural History . . . " (Philadelphia, 1800) ; "Epistle on the Means of Preserving Health" (Philadelphia, 180a) ; and "Domestic Happiness" (1816).

 But his fame rests mainly on his achievements as a portrait painter, and is due in a great measure to the circumstance of his having been enabled to associate his name with that of Washington, who gave him, it is asserted, no less than fourteen sittings. He executed in 1772 his first portrait of Washington, who was then a Virginia colonel, and after that painted him repeatedly during tile Revolutionary war, and afterward several of these portraits he engraveded.  He was at one time the only portrait painter in the colonies, and his services were much in demand. Among his portraits, many of which have been engraved, are those of George and Martha Washington, John Hancock, Robert Morris, Nathanael Greene, Horatio Gates, Benjamin Lincoln, Baron Steuben, Count Rochambeau, Baron DeKalb, Benjamin Franklin, Peyton Randolph, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Carroll, Lord Stifling, Bishop White, Albert Oallatin, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Count Volney, Timothy Pickering, John Witherspoon, and Alexander Hamilton. Those of James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun, and Henry Clay were painted in the winter of 1818'19. 

The New York historical society owns four portraits by him Washington, Hamilton, John born Bordley, and Pieter Johan Van Berekel. His "Christ Healing the Sick at the Pool of Bethesda" was painted in his eighty-first year, and his last work was a full-length portrait of himself at tile age of eighty-three. It is now in the Philadelphia academy. See Elizabeth born Johnston's "Original Portraits of Washington" (Boston, 1882)" Willitun Dunlap's " History of the Arts of Design in the United States" (New York, 1834); and Seharf's "History of Philadelphia" (Philadelphia, 1884).

His son, Rembrandt, artist, born in Bucks county, Pa., 22 Feb., 1778; died in Philadelphia, 3 Oct., 1860, showed a talent for art at an early age, and was but seventeen when he executed a portrait of Washington, from whom he was fortunate enough to obtain three sittings, immediately after this, in 1796, he went to Charleston, S.C., where he was employed until 1801, in which year he went to England to study under Benjamin West

While in London he painted some portraits, and in 1803 turned to the United States, finding sufficient occupation in Savannah, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. He visited Paris in 1807, and again in 1809, to paint the portraits of distinguished Frenchmen, many of which pictures were afterward placed in his father's museum, and to study in the art galleries of the city. From the last trip he returned in 1810, and again opened a studio in Philadelphia. He painted in that city, New York, Baltimore, and Boston until 1829, and then went abroad again, visiting France, and spending sixteen months in Italy. 

In 1832 he went to England, and established himself in 1833 in London, where he exhibited at the Royal academy, but the death of his son forced him to return. Peale was president of the American academy, succeeding Col. Trumbull, and was one of the original members of the Academy of design. On his removal to Philadelphia in 1827 he was made an honorary member. His numerous portraits include those of Baron Cuvier, Bernardin de Saint Pierre, Jean Antoine Houdon, at the Pennsylvania academy of fine arts, Thomas Jefferson, Mrs. James Madison, Thomas Sully, Com. Oliver H. Perry, Rammohun Roy, G. W. Bethune, William Bainbridge, Dr. Joseph Priestley, and Stephen Deca, fur, owned by the New York historical society. lake his father, he painted Washington several times, the last and most notable portrait being executed in 1823. It was exhibited in the principal cities of the United States and Europe in 1829, and in 1832 was bought by congress for 82,000. In 1859'60 he delivered a lecture on  "Washington and His Portraits" in most of the large cities of the Union. 

His most noted figure compositions are "Napoleon on Horseback" (1810); "Babes in the Wood"; "Song of the Shirt"; " Jupiter and Io" (1813); "Lvsippa on the Rock" : "Roman Daughter"; "Ascent of Elijah"; and "Court of Death" (1820). 

His versatility almost equaled that of his father. He was one of the first artists to practice lithography in the United States, gaining a silver medal at the Franklin institute in 1827 for a portrait of Washington. Like his father, he lectured on natural history. He was the author of  "An Account of the Skeleton of the Mammoth " (London, 1802); "Historical Disquisition on the Mammoth" (1803); "Notes on Italy" (Philadelphia, 1831) ; "Graphics" (1841) ; and "Reminiscruces of Art and Artists" (1845). He also edited tile "Portfolio of an Artist" (1839), and contribted articles and translations to the "Crayon" and other periodicals. 

Another son, Raphaelle, artist, born in Annapolis, M(1., 17 Feb., 1774" died in Philadelphia, 25 March, 1825. He began painting portraits in 1804, but paid also much attention to the painting of still-life subjects, in which branch of art he was very successful. His brother Rembrandt said of him "He may perhaps be considered the first, in point of time, who adopted this branch of painting in America." 

Another son, Titian Ramsey, artist, born in Philadelphia in 1800" died there, 13 March, 1885, was much devoted to the study of natural history, and held office in the Philadelphia academy of natural sciences, He accompanied the South sea exploring expedition in 1838'42, under Lieut. Charles Wilkes, as a naturalist, and drew several of the plates in one of the volumes of reports on the expedition, that of John Cassin, on "Mammalogy and Ornithology" (Philadelphia, 1858). In his artistic labors he appears also to have devoted himself entirely to the delineation of animal life. lie executed most of the plates in the 1st and 4th volumes of Charles Lucien Bonaparte's "American Ornithology" (1825'33), and exhibited watercolor drawings of animals at the Pennsylvania academy of fine arts. From 1849 till 1872 he was an examiner in the patent office at Washington. He was the author of "Mammalia and Ornithology" (1848). Joseph Sabin says that the volume "was suppressed, and is of the greatest raritv." 

A brother of Charles Willson, James, artist, born in Annapolis in 1749" died in Philadelphia, 24 May, 1831, served during the Revolution as an officer of the Continental line. tie turned his attention principally to portrait painting, executing many miniatures and portraits in oil, including a full-length portrait of Washington, which has been engraved.

 One of his portraits of Washington is in the New York historical society, the other, painted in 1795, in Independence Hall, Philadelphia. He painted also some landscapes, and even attempted historical composition. Among his larger pictures are "A Rencontre between Col. Allen McLane and Two British Horsemen" (1811) "View of the Battle of Princeton" and "A View of Belfield Farm, near Germantown" (1818).

James's son, James, born in Philadelphia, 6 March, 1779" died there, 27 Oct., 1876, engaged in banking, but devoted his leisure hours to the study of art., and became known as a marine and landscape painter. In 1813 he exhibited, at the Columbia society of artists, a view of High street bridge. His other works include a painting of an engagement between the privateer schooner "Cornet," of Baltimore, and a Portuguese sloop-of-war" "View of Germantown" (1820)" "View of Water-Gap and Breaking Away of a Storm" (1824)" and "Fairmount Water Works" (1824).

The first James's daughter, Anna Claypoole, artist, born in Philadelphia, 6 March, 1791" died there, 25 Dec., 1878, also devoted herself at first to still-life subjects, but afterward followed miniature painting. She executed miniatures of Gen. Lallemand, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson (1819), and Com. William Bainbridge. She married William Staughton, D.D., and subsequently Gen. William Duncan. 

Another daughter, Sara|, M., artist, born in Philadelphia, 19 May, 1800" died there, 4 Feb., 1885, studied under her father and uncle, and began to paint still-life subjects about 1816. Later she executed portraits of Com. William Bainbridge (1822), Henry A. Wise, Caleb Cushing, Dixon H. Lewis, and other .public men. Lafayette accorded her four sittings In 1825. Her professional life was spent in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and St. Louis.

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