Friday, February 4, 2011

Early American Painter Charles Willson Peale

.1771 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Margaret Strachan 1747-1821 (Mrs. Thomas Harwood).

In 1741, in Queen Anne's County, Maryland, Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) was born into a financially struggling family. His bitter father Charles Peale (1709-1750), a disgraced postal clerk exciled for life from England, was working as the schoolmaster at Kent County School, Chestertown, Maryland; while his mother, the Maryland-born Margaret Triggs (1709-1791), was raising their 5 children.

1772 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Hannah Lambert (Mrs. Thomas Cadwalader).
Schoolmaster Peale died when his eldest son Charles was about 10, and within 3 years the boy was bound out to a saddler. Intrigued by some "miserably" executed landscapes he saw, he believed he could do better and bartered painting lessons & materials from John Hesselius in exchange for a saddle. It was apparent that Hesselius' clients came from Chesapeake's gentry. Peale longed for the higher social status that his father had lost through felony and exile.

1773 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Catherine Orrick (Mrs. Elihu Hall).
Peale opened his own saddle shop after his 7 year apprenticeship, and soon married the wealthier Rachel Brewer (1744-1790) in 1762, moving into polite society from which his new customers would come. But when debts from establishing his new business went unpaid, he fled his creditors by sailing to Boston, where he met John Singleton Copley & studied in his studio for a few months in 1765. When he returned to Maryland, a group of local gentry recognizing Peale's talent collected monies for him to journey to London to study with Pennsylvania expatriate Benjamin West from 1767-1769.

1774 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Elizabeth McClure (Mrs Mordecai Gist).
Marrying well & painting well gave Peale easy access to the cultured Chesapeake society that he wanted for himself and his extended family. Seeking a larger potential client base for his new found portrait skills, Charles Willson Peale moved his family to Philadelphia in 1776, where he served as a military officer in the Continental Army during the Revolution. In 1779, he was elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature.

1783 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Mary McIlvaine (1752-1818) (Mrs. Joseph Bloomfield, New Jersey Governor).
During his lifetime, the Proceedings of The Academy of Natural Sciences (Vol. 147, 14. 1997) proclaim that Peale became "an accomplished saddlemaker, watchmaker, metalworker, carriage-maker, poet, soldier, showman, natural historian, taxidermist, educator, health investigator, inventor, politician, denture-maker, writer, lecturer, engraver, and a prolific portrait painter." Peale was a hands-on experimenter and an advocate for the health benefits of physical exercise.

1784 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Hannah Stockton (Mrs. Elias Boudinot IV) (1736-1808). Princeton.
To promote public culture and house his growing collections of curiosities, Peale became a librarian and curator. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he and his son Rembrandt began museums in Baltimore and in Philadelphia to display natural history objects & art, especially patriotic portraits.

1784 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Ann Thomas (Mrs. Thomas Russell.)
Charles Willson Peale & his wife Rachel had 11 children, naming each after famous artists, 3 of whom became painters; Rembrandt, Titian and Raphaelle. After Rachel died in 1790, he married Elizabeth DePeyster in 1792 producing 6 more children, before she died in 1804. In 1805, Peale married Hanna Moore (1755-1821) but had no more children.

1787 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Mary Chew (Mrs. Thomas Elliott). Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia.

Peale's art students included his brother James, his children, his orphaned nephew Charles Peale Polk, William Pearce, Edmund Brice, William Mercer, John Beale Bordley, Matthias Bordley, Elizabeth Bordley Gibson, & John Beale Bordley II. Peale was convinced that anyone could learn to paint, and he believed that a portrait was a patriotic & "above all a domestic symbol."

1790 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Elizabeth Snyder (Mrs. Simon Snyder).
Peale painted portraits & miniatures in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania from 1763-1776, and again in from the 1780s until his death. At the age of 81, he painted Christ Healing the Sick; and at age 83, he painted his full-length self-portrait now at the Pennsylvania Academy.

1790 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Mary Tilghman (Mrs. Edward Roberts).
An amazing amount of primary source material has been documented and published about Charles Willson Peale. See:

1790 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Eleanor Cole (Mrs. Joseph Daffin).
The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family: Volume 1, Artist in Revolutionary America, 1735-1791 by Charles Willson Peale and Lillian Miller, Yale University Press, 1983.
1790 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) Rachel Leeds (Mrs David Kerr)
The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family: Volume 2, The Artist as Museum Keeper, 1791-1810 by Charles Willson Peale and Lillian Miller. Yale University Press, 1988
1791 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Eleanor Miller (Mrs. Francis Bailey).
The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family: Volume 3, The Belfield Farm Years, 1810-1820
by Charles Willson Peale and Lillian Miller. Yale University Press, 1992
1791 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Rachel Brewer (Mrs. Charles Willson Peale, the artist's wife).
The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family: Volume 4, Charles Willson Peale: His Last Years, 1821-1827
by Charles Willson Peale and Lillian Miller. Yale University Press, 1996
1798 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Anna de Peyster.
The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family: Volume 5, The Autobiography of Charles Willson Peale by Lillian B. Miller, Lillian Miller, Mr. Sidney Hart, and Mr. David C. Ward. Yale University Press, 2000.