Charles Willson Peale USA
4-15-1741 Chester, USA - 2-22-1827 Philadelphia, USABack to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
Charles Willson Peale became an apprentice to a saddle maker when he was thirteen years old. Upon reaching maturity, he opened his own saddle shop; however, when his Loyalist creditors discovered he had joined the Sons of Liberty, they conspired to bankrupt his business. He was also not very good at saddle making. He then tried fixing clocks and working with metals, but both of these endeavors failed as well. He then took up painting.
Finding that he had a talent for painting, especially portraiture, Charles Willson Peale studied for a time under John Hesselius and John Singleton Copley. John Beale Bordley and friends eventually raised enough money for him to travel to England to take instruction from Benjamin West. Peale studied with West for three years beginning in 1767, afterward returning to America and settling in Annapolis, Maryland. There, he taught painting to his younger brother, James Peale, who in time also became a noted artist.
Charles Willson Peale's enthusiasm for the nascent national government brought him to the capital, Philadelphia, in 1776, where he painted portraits of American notables and visitors from overseas. He also 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.
Charles Willson Peale was quite prolific 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 probably 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 60 portraits of Washington.
Peale 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.
Peale's slave, Moses Williams, was also trained in the arts while growing up in the Peale household and later became a professional silhouette artist.
A Renaissance man, Peale had expertise not only in painting but also in many diverse fields, including carpentry, dentistry, optometry, shoe making, and taxidermy.
Around 1804, Charles Willson Peale obtained the American patent rights to 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.
His three sons Rembrandt Peale, Raphaelle Peale, and Titian Peale, became noted artists as well.The World War II cargo Liberty Ship S.S. Charles Willson Peale was named in his honor.
In January 2005, a full-length portrait of Washington at Princeton from 1779 sold for $21.3 million, setting a record for the highest price paid for an American portrait.
Influences: John Hesselius, John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West
Influenced: James Peale