Peale_ Rembrandt _

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					Peale, Rembrandt (? 22 Feb. 1778-4 Oct. 1860), portrait and history painter, was born in
Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the son of Charles Willson Peale, an artist and museum
proprietor, and Rachel Brewer. Growing up in the politically and intellectually
stimulating environment of late eighteenth-century Philadelphia, Peale's precocious
commitment to painting was signaled by an accomplished self-portrait painted at age
thirteen and signed "Rembrandt Peale, 1791/Artist" (private collection). Hard working
and quick to assimilate ideas, he was essentially self-taught, copying his father's portraits
and studying prints and European paintings in Philadelphia collections. In 1795 he
contributed five portraits and a cityscape to the sole exhibition of America's first artists'
organization, the Columbianum. This year also brought an opportunity to paint George
Washington from life. Working beside his father, who had depicted the president many
times before, he produced a strong unidealized likeness (Historical Society of
Pennsylvania). Similar in directness and grasp of character were his portraits of
revolutionary war heroes painted in Charleston a few months later. These commissions
for his father's Philadelphia museum were intended to document and commemorate their
important subjects. As a type, the simply formatted "museum portrait" comprised an
important segment of Peale's work, establishing his commitment to dignified, accurate
characterizations of accomplished individuals.

From December 1795 to late 1796 Peale and his brother Raphaelle sought portrait
commissions and displayed the "Portraits of Patriots" in Charleston, Savannah, and
Baltimore. In the last-named city they established a museum of portraits and natural
science displays that lasted nearly two years. Working briefly in New York City, Peale
returned to Philadelphia in June 1798 to marry Eleanor May Short, with whom he had
nine children. He sought work in Baltimore and along Maryland's Eastern Shore but later
that year returned to Philadelphia. His paintings grew in technical and expressive
refinement, and under the influence of Gilbert Stuart he developed a mastery of three-
dimensional effects and a dramatic use of light that became a hallmark of his style.

In 1802-1803 Peale traveled to England to exhibit a mastodon skeleton exhumed by the
Peales the previous year in upstate New York. To accompany it he wrote an explanatory
pamphlet, An Historical Disquisition on the Mammoth, or Great American Incognitum.
The trip provided him the opportunity to see great art and to study briefly at the Royal
Academy and with Benjamin West. He met Sir Thomas Lawrence and Washington
Allston and exhibited at the academy's annual exhibition in 1803. He returned to
Philadelphia financially strained but with portraits of the English nature poet Robert
Bloomfield (1803, unlocated) and the eminent scientist Sir Joseph Banks (1803;
Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia). During the next few years Peale's career
blossomed, and in 1805 he became a founding member of the Pennsylvania Academy of
the Fine Arts. His portraiture, described as "almost perfect nature," was so popular he
was unable to keep pace with commissions.

Eager for new challenges and opportunities, however, Peale sailed for France in June
1808. At the Louvre he singled out the works of Rubens, Raphael, Titian, Van Dyck,
Correggio, and Veronese, "selected their beauties, noticed their defects, methodized their
systems and formed a union of their various excellences." He also assimilated aspects of
the French academic tradition, with its emphasis on modeling and outline, and admired
the work of contemporary artists Jacques-Louis David, Francois Gérard, and Robert

Returning to Philadelphia with "seven excellent portraits," among them likenesses of the
sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon and the minister of culture Vivant Denon (both completed
in 1808 and housed in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), he so impressed his
father that he received a commission for fifty portraits of "the most eminent men."
Accompanied this time by his young family, Peale returned to Paris in the fall of 1809
and remained a year. Always interested in technical refinements, he experimented with
the wax-based encaustic medium revived by the neoclassicists and expanded his interest
in popular physiognomical and phrenological theories, which suggested how details of
physical appearance revealed human character. Intensification of color, greater linear
definition, and a remarkable luminosity in the depiction of flesh were the stylistic legacy
of his French studies.

But France had also fired Peale's ambitions to reach beyond portraiture to grand manner
history painting, and his studies from the nude in the Parisian studio of John Vanderlyn
provided an important experience. On his return to Philadelphia, he established an
impressive and varied display in his Apollodorian gallery. For nearly fifteen years large-
scale paintings remained part of his career. Aiming for a popular audience, he
emphasized the melodramatic over the esoteric or erudite. With subjects derived from
traditional grand manner sources, his paintings ranged from morally didactic to titillating
to simply frightening. He exhibited them widely, and at times they performed
spectacularly well. His Court of Death (1820; Detroit Institute of Arts) earned more than
$9,000 in its first year and was visited by nearly 35,000 people. Among his most well
known works were Roman Daughter (1811; National Museum of American Art),
Napoleon on Horseback (1811), Jupiter and Io (renamed Dream of Love [1813]), Ascent
of Elijah (1815), and Death of Virginia (1812-1821). The last four paintings are all

Although elected to the board of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and
appointed professor of painting at the Society of Artists, Peale was disappointed by the
reception he received on his return to Philadelphia. By 1813 he had decided to move to
the rapidly expanding city of Baltimore. Raising money by stock subscription, he
commissioned architect Robert Cary Long to design a small elegant museum building,
the first of its kind in America. A conscientious objector refusing to bear arms, Peale
relocated in the summer of 1814, just prior to the British siege. In August Peale's
Baltimore Museum, advertised as "an elegant Rendevouz for taste, curiosity and leisure,"
opened with artifacts and displays of natural and mechanical science. Unlike his father's
Philadelphia Museum, it had a separate Gallery of Paintings. His exhibition pieces and
those by Vanderlyn, Thomas Sully, and others could be seen as part of changing displays.
In 1815 an organ was installed, and the following year the museum became the first
building in Baltimore to be illuminated by gaslights.
Proud to be a notable civic presence, Peale painted portraits for his museum and private
patrons. A request from the city of Baltimore for portraits of the city's "Defenders" in the
War of 1812 was, however, his only public commission. Unfortunately, Peale's financial
naiveté and his ill-fated partnership in such extra-artistic endeavors as the founding of the
Baltimore Gas Light Company left him deeply in debt.

In 1822 he sold his museum to his brother Rubens and moved to New York City in
search of commissions. During the next fifteen years he led a peripatetic existence,
searching for lucrative professional opportunities. Tapping into the resurgence of interest
in revolutionary events he created two large exhibition pieces, his Patriae Pater (1824;
U.S. Capitol) and Washington at Yorktown (1824; Corcoran Gallery of Art). With the
Patriae Pater he hoped to create an inspirational "standard national likeness" embodying
Washington's political virtue. A composite of his own and his father's 1795 portraits with
the bust sculpted by Houdon, the portrait successfully united the drama of trompe l'oeil
painting with an iconic monumentality. Widely exhibited and promoted by
accompanying pamphlets, Peale's portrait served him well. Purchased for the U.S. Capitol
in 1832, the variations he generated from it over the next thirty years form a subgenre of
his work.

Eager to compete for a mural in the Capitol rotunda, the major artistic commission of the
day, Peale produced the even larger and more complex Washington at Yorktown,
featuring an equestrian Washington in a gesture of command. Peale frankly noted that he
painted it "to acquire distinction by my pencil--strongly impelled by patriotic feelings as
an American--and, in part, for the consideration of Dollars."

In 1826 Peale became one of the founding members of New York's National Academy of
Design. The following year he moved to Boston to develop his lithographic skills. Over
the next three decades he executed a variety of distinguished prints, most notably his
Patriae Pater, which won the Franklin Institute's 1827 award for best American
lithograph. Feeling he "must not become an 'old' man and die without seeing Italy," in
1828 he and his son Angelo departed for Italy. He returned late in 1830, via Paris and
London, with carefully executed old-master copies designed to educate Americans on the
achievements of European art. But his displays of "Peale's Italian Pictures" were
unsuccessful, and the paintings were sold individually. By contrast, his Notes on Italy
(1831) were well received. Between late 1832 and April 1836, when his wife died, he
sought commissions in London, Washington, New York, and Boston.

Peale's career as an author and educator gained momentum in the 1830s. Graphics: A
Manual of Drawing and Writing for the Use of Schools and Families (1834) became his
most successful publication. Uniting the fine and useful arts, it methodically showed how
anyone could learn to draw. Serving the cause of American mass education, it went
through four editions and nineteen printings between 1834 and 1866. Less practical was
his Portfolio of an Artist (1839), a selection of prose and poetry on life and art from a
variety of authors, including himself. Unfortunately, his "Notes of the Painting Room,"
designed to assist the young professional artist, remained unpublished. From 1836 to
1838 he served as president of the American Academy of the Fine Arts. Although Peale
was always committed to professional artists' organizations, he was not particularly
social. His museums, exhibitions, and frequent travel left little time either for conviviality
or for students, although he did tutor his cousin Sarah Miriam Peale and his niece Mary
Jane Peale. In 1840 Peale married Harriet Cany, an artist in her own right, who frequently
copied her husband's works. They had no children.

The 1840s and 1850s were a more relaxed period. Peale settled in Philadelphia, painting
portraits and systematically replicating his Patriae Pater in a reduced size and format.
These masculine martial images stood in stark contrast to the feminine, decorative, and
sentimental fancy pieces he also produced. The strongly conceptualized features of the
Washington portrait facilitated its mass production, and Peale recalled painting seventy-
nine replicas to fulfill his "Vocation to multiply the Countenance of Washington." His
lecture "Washington and His Portraits," delivered in cities from Boston to Virginia during
the late 1850s, was a promotional adjunct to these portraits. It was also something more:
it was Peale's final educational artistic entertainment, in which he shared boyhood
memories and anecdotes of the nation's hero while displaying a variety of portraits.
Contemporary newspaper accounts note that he spoke with "vigor and enthusiasm" and
described him as "a living link between the past and present." Historically conscious and
seeking to establish his place in American art, he published an autobiographical sketch in
C. E. Lester's Artists of America (1846) and his "Reminiscences" in The Crayon (1855-
1856). He died in Philadelphia.

A mixture of idealism and entrepreneurial ambition characterized Peale’s lengthy career
as artist, museum proprietor, author, and educator. An accomplished member of a
multigenerational family of painters, he produced portraits, landscapes, fancy pieces,
copies after European and American artists, and lithographs. Stylistically, his work
encompassed the extremes of the relaxed naturalism of his Rubens Peale with a
Geranium (1801; National Gallery of Art) and the dramatic hyperrealism of his
posthumous Washington portrait, the Patriae Pater. Non-elitist in his consistent attempt to
make art, in a variety of forms, broadly accessible, he was also a man who despite many
hard times never became disillusioned about making art or about art's ability to improve
and educate his countrymen.


The most extensive single collection of Rembrandt Peale's papers is the Peale-Sellers
Papers, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia. The microfiche The Collected
Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, ed. Lillian B. Miller (1980) contains
most of Peale's correspondence and writings. For annotated selections from fiche in
letterpress see Miller et al., eds. The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His
Family (4 vols., 1983-1994). Carol Eaton Hevner, Rembrandt Peale, 1778-1860: A Life
in the Arts (1985), includes an introduction to Peale's life and work in the context of a
selection of his paintings, a bibliography of Peale's writings, and notes on visual and
documentary sources. See Miller, Rembrandt Peale, 1778-1860: In Pursuit of Fame
(1992), for an essay on his paintings by Hevner. It provides a lengthy biographical
overview with an extensive bibliography and excellent illustrations. See also Carrie
Scheflow, "Rembrandt Peale, A Chronology," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and
Biography, Jan. 1986, pp. 129-80; Paul J. Staiti, "Rembrandt Peale in Art," Pennsylvania
Magazine of History and Biography, Jan. 1986, pp. 91-109, for an analysis of his
writings; and Lois M. Fink, "Rembrandt Peale in Paris," Pennsylvania Magazine of
History and Biography, Jan. 1986, pp. 71-79. For Peale's Italian sojourn see Hevner,
"Rembrandt Peale's Dream and Experience of Italy" in her The Italian Presence in
American Art, 1760-1860 (1989), pp. 9-25. For graphics see John A. Mahey, "The
Lithographs of Rembrandt Peale," Antiques, Feb. 1970, pp. 236-42. See Hevner,
"Lessons from a Dutiful Son," in her New Perspectives on Charles Willson Peale (1991),
pp. 101-17, for Rembrandt's influence on his father's work.