Charles Willson Peale Biography | Oil Paintings
4-15-1741 Chester, USA - 2-22-1827 Philadelphia, USABack to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
Charles Willson Peale was an apprentice to a saddle maker when he was thirteen years old. At eighteen he opened his own saddle shop, he was not great at saddle making. He then tried fixing clocks and working with metals, he was also not very good at these either. He then took up painting.
Finding that he at least had a talent for painting, especially portraiture, Charles Willson Peale studied for a time under John Hesselius and John Singleton Copley. Some friends including John Beale Bordley raised enough money for him to sail to England in 1767 to study with Benjamin West. Peale studied with West for three years, then returned to America and settled in Annapolis, Maryland where he taught painting, including his younger brother, James Peale, who also became a noted artist.
Charles Willson Peale's excitement for the early national government took him to the capital, Philadelphia, in 1775, where he painted portraits of American notables and famous visitors from overseas. The following year, he raised troops for the War of Independence and eventually gained the rank of Captain in the Pennsylvania militia by 1776, having participated in several battles, from the Trenton-Princeton campaigns.
Charles Willson Peale was quite productive as an artist. While he did portraits of scores of historic figures such as James Varnum, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton, he is best known for his portraits of George Washington. The first time Washington sat for a portrait was with Peale in 1772, and they had six other sittings, using these seven as models, Peale produced altogether close to sixty portraits of Washington.
Peale also had a great interest in natural history and organized the first U.S. scientific expedition in 1801. These two major interests combined in his founding of what became the Philadelphia Museum, later known as Peale's American Museum.
A Renaissance man, Peale had expertise not only in painting but also in many diverse fields, including carpentry, dentistry, optometry, shoemaking, taxidermy, and he wrote several books. Around 1804, Charles Willson Peale obtained the American patent rights for the polygraph from its inventor John Isaac Hawkins. Peale and Thomas Jefferson collaborated on refinements to this device, which enabled a copy of a handwritten letter to be produced simultaneously with the original.
The Peale Museum eventually failed because Peale was unsuccessful at obtaining government funding. After his death in 1827, the museum was sold to, and split up by, showman P. T. Barnum and Moses Kimball. Also after Peale's death, his slave, Moses Williams, who was trained in the arts while working in the household, later became a professional silhouette artist.
In 2005, a full-length portrait of Washington at Princeton painted in 1779 sold for US$21.3 million, setting a record for the highest price paid for an American portrait. His three sons who all became noted artists were named Rembrandt, Raphaelle, and Titian Peale. The World War II Liberty cargo ship the S.S. Charles Willson Peale was named in his honor.
Artists Influencing Charles Willson Peale: John Hesselius, John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West.
He Traveled To England.
Painters Charles Willson Peale Influenced: James, Rembrandt, Raphaelle, and Titian Peale.
Artist Biography compiled by Albert L. Mansour at The World's Artist, with text adapted from Wikipedia.