Charles Wilson Peale (1741-1827)

Charles Wilson Peale is best known for his portraits of the American Revolution, and founder of the first ever major museum in the early United States, but realistically, painting was only one facet of Peale's life. As a young man, Peale did a considerable amount in his life- mending watches and clocks, mending saddles, even upholstering- Peale even became known as "the ingenious Mr. Peale." But when he exchanged a saddle for a few painting lessons from John Hesselius, and after getting advice from famous painter John Singleton Copley (who was already highly respected in the time period), Peale decided to become a painter after studying with expatriate Benjamin West. This has been suspected for two reasons:

-Peale had fled Annapolis and moved with his brother and sister-in-law in Virgina, and was forced to leave his wife and child behind. He realized that his wide variety of odd-and-ends jobs made it difficult to support his family.

-Received an opportunity from the governor to study in London, but found he missed his family and his passion for patriotism had surfaced in his time away from America- so he returned 7 years later, reuniting with his wife.

After returning to America after his apprenticeship in 1775, Peale found himself in the middle of the Revolutionary war in the war, and wholeheartedly served with the city militia of Philadelphia, earning the rank of Captain, and after the war he was the elected president of the Constitutional Society, where he learned that he disliked politics, instead focusing on art to support his family and express himself.

Peale held his first studio show in his home in 1785, and after his wife died, unsure of how to support his family he later created a gallery of Revolutionary heroes in 1782 to hopefully make his family enough money to survive ( Peale had 11 surviving children and a new wife) that later became the Philadelphia Museum, which holds his famous paintings of Revolutionary Figures, however his museum made him little money, so he had to return to painting and science to attempt to make a living.

In Charles Wilson Peale's lifetime, he painted over 1,100 portraits, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, even John Adams. His paintings echo his training in Neoclassical style popularized in the time by Jacques Louis. Peale was exceptionally talented at painting lifelike renditions of people- and there's a ton of stories about how realistic his canvases looked- Washington himself asked Peale for seven different life portraits of himself, even once doting his hat to a particularly lifelike portrait of his two sons, intentionally framed in a door jam with a projecting bottom step.

Over the years, Peale became more and more interested in Science, and began developing methods of preserving animals using arsenic, a naturally occurring toxin which made his health deteriorate. He left the city and died in 1827 in his home in Maryland, after leaving the museum in the care of his son, Rembrandt (Peale had a habit of naming his children after his favorite artists).

View Charles Wilson Peale Gallery