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 Charles Willson Peale

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Charles Willson Peale

  • Birth 16 Apr 1741 Chester, Queen Anne's County, Maryland, USA
  • Death 22 Feb 1827 Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Burial Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Memorial ID 798

Artist. Born in Queen Anne County, Maryland, to Charles Peale who had been, deported to Colonies in lieu of death sentence for forgery and Margaret Triggs. At thirteen, Peale became apprenticed to a saddle maker. He became his own master at twenty and opened his own saddle shop. He taught himself several other trades including watch making, silversmithing, upholstery, and sign painting. About 1764 he began to study art with Gustavus Hesselius, a portraitist living near Annapolis. His business was forced into bankruptcy by political rivals and he fled from creditors to Boston, where he worked for a short time with John Singlton Copley. In 1767 he went to study with Benjamin West in London. Peale studied with West for two years before returning to Annapolis. In 1772 Peale painted a three-quarters-length study of George Washington in the uniform of a colonel of Virginia militia. It is the earliest known portrait of Washington. In Philadelphia, Peale joined the militia and fought at Trenton, Princeton and Germantown. In the field, he continued to paint, executing miniature portraits of officers in the Continental Army. He eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant and served on several committees in Philadelphia and in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. With Copley’s departure for England, Peale might have been the most popular portraitist in the country. His completed works included seven sittings with Washington, as well as portraits and miniatures of Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Paul Jones, John Hancock, and John Adams. In 1784 he established Peale’s Museum. He had an interest in natural history, and organized a scientific expedition in 1801, largely at his own expense, for the excavation of two mastodon skeletons in New York State, and in 1802 displayed them at Peale's Museum which was moved to Philadelphia that year. Besides portraits of eminent Americans by Peale the museum contained Indian relics, waxworks, and natural history specimens. Peale invented his own system of taxidermy and was a well ahead of his time in his concept of placing each animal in a simulated natural environment. In addition to taxidermy, he developed a level of expertise in fields such as carpentry, dentistry, optometry, and shoemaking. He wrote several books, among which were ‘An Essay on Building Wooden Bridges’ in 1797, ‘An Epistle to a Friend on the Means of Preserving Health’ in 1803 and ‘An Essay to Promote Domestic Happiness’ in 1812. He was instrumental in founding the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1805 and taught there for several years. He married three times and with his first two wives produced seventeen children, many of whom were named for prominent artists or scientists. He taught all of his children to paint, and three; Rembrandt, Raphaelle and Titian Ramsay II, became famous in their own right. At eighty-three he executed a full-length portrait of himself, now in the Academy of the Fine Arts. He died less than three years later at his home near Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Bio by: Iola


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 798
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Charles Willson Peale (16 Apr 1741–22 Feb 1827), Find A Grave Memorial no. 798, citing Saint Peter's Episcopal Churchyard, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .