Feel Art Again: Charles Willson Peale

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While researching possible artists or works to discuss today, I stumbled upon the American artist Charles Willson Peale. Peale was involved in everything during his time, so I have no idea why I had never heard of him before. His life was full (he died at age 86, a three-time widower) and fascinating so, in honor of his 267th birthday, I'm proud to present a special three-part edition of "Feel Art Again."

Today, we'll look at the artist and his family, alongside one of his seven self-portraits, painted in 1822. Tomorrow, we'll delve into his role as a naturalist, his museum, and another self-portrait, "The Artist in His Museum." And, on Thursday, we'll explore his role as an American patriot, alongside one of his most well-known paintings, "George Washington at Princeton."

The Artist & His Family

1. At age 13, Charles Willson Peale was apprenticed to a saddle maker. After developing his craft, he later opened his own saddle shop. However, when his Loyalist creditors discovered that he had joined the Sons of Liberty, they worked to bankrupt his business.

2. Peale received artistic training as an adult and eventually became the patriarch of a large, artistic family. His brother, James, received training from him, and then became a noted artist in his own right. Two of James' five daughters, Sarah Miriam Peale and Anna Claypoole Peale, also became painters. Charles Peale himself produced 16 children between his first two (of three) wives. He named all his sons after artists, and three of them—Rembrandt, Raphaelle, and Titian Ramsay—became artists themselves.

3. In 1810, at age 69, Peale bought Nieve's Place, a 104-acre estate in Philadelphia, and moved there with his third wife, Hannah, and five of his younger children. Peale, a skilled inventor, built all kinds of machinery for his new farm, including an apple parer, a corn planter, a milk cart, and a cotton mill. Though the farm produced wheat, hay, corn, potatoes, vegetables and fruits, and dairy products, the only profitable product was currant wine, although Peale was against the consumption of it. The estate is now owned by La Salle University and is open for visits.

4. Considered an "American Leonardo," Peale pursued all his hobbies and ventures with equal passion and enthusiasm. Among his hobbies were taxidermy, making false teeth, and designing mechanical farm equipment, as well as painting. He also authored several books on a variety of topics. The Philadelphia Inquirer ranked him as "second only to Benjamin Franklin as Philadelphia's 18th century Renaissance man."

5. Since 1974, the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery has been conducting a historical editing project of the Charles Willson Peale Family Papers. They have gathered more than six thousand documents that span three generations of Peales, tracing the family from the arrival of Charles Peale, a transported felon, through Charles Willson Peale and his progeny. In addition to his artist sons, his offspring include Franklin Peale, who became Chief Coiner of the Philadelphia Mint in 1795, and Titian and Rubens Peale, who were both naturalists.

A larger version of Peale's self-portrait is available here.

Don't forget to check back tomorrow for part two!

'Feel Art Again' appears every Tuesday and Thursday.