Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Kate Nearpass Ogden

Peale Family of Painters

[caption id="attachment_22956" align="aligncenter" width="575"]An image depicting Charles Willson Peale's family and children seated around a table, some standing, others seated. A peeled apple sits symbolically on a plate near the front of the table. His brothers work on a drawing of his mother, seated opposite them, several busts are located on a shelf at the top right, and a painting of the three maidens is to the left. This ambitious portrait, The Peale Family, captures the likenesses of many in Charles Willson Peale's family, including ten detailed human figures and the artist's dog. (New-York Historical Society)[/caption]

For over 125 years, the family headed by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) documented Philadelphia’s leading citizens and created paintings to decorate their homes. The Peales’ involvement in the arts enriched the cultural landscape of Philadelphia, and their work as naturalists and museum entrepreneurs advanced the causes of art, science, and science education in the United States.

Charles Willson Peale established a national iconography of artistic, political, and scientific imagery. A leader in the city’s nascent art world, he founded one of the first museums in the young country as well as two of its first art schools. Peale fathered a dynasty of artists and scientists, many of whom flourished in the Philadelphia area.

[caption id="attachment_22596" align="alignright" width="226"]A painting of Charles Willson Peale seated behind an easel, working on a painting of his wife, Rachel Brewer Peale. His daughter stands behind him with her hand on the end of his paintbrush, as the tip of his brush, in hand, touches the paint palette in his other hand, resting on his arm. In Self-Portrait with Angelica and Portrait of Rachel, Charles Willson Peale paints a portrait of his first wife, Rachel Brewer Peale. Their daughter, Angelica Kauffman, mimics her father's gesture, symbolically holding the end of his paintbrush. (The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)[/caption]

Born in Chester, Maryland, Charles Willson Peale studied with John Hesselius (1728-78) and John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) before spending almost three years in England, where he trained with the American expatriate Benjamin West (1738-1820). After returning to the United States, Peale settled initially in Annapolis before moving permanently to Philadelphia in 1776.

A decade after his arrival Peale founded the Peale Museum (1786), where he exhibited his own portraits of notable Americans as well as his growing collection of natural history specimens. He was a founding member of the Columbianum (1794-95), a loose association of artists that sponsored the first exhibition of American art. Peale was also one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1805), the oldest surviving American art school.

Peale became known for his portraits of Revolutionary War leaders. He painted close to sixty portraits of the first American president, George Washington, including the well-known George Washington Before the Battle of Princeton (1781). He also depicted such notable citizens as Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), painted in 1789; Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), painted in 1791; and John Adams (1735-1826), painted around 1791-94. Peale’s portraits were exhibited at his Philadelphia museum, making an important statement of national pride. Most later became part of the collection of Independence National Historical Park.

A Family Portrait, 1773-1809

A group portrait, The Peale Family (begun in 1773 and completed in 1809) is an impressive early image of America’s first family of artists and pays tribute to one of Peale’s favorite subjects: his family. The painting also pays homage to the visual arts, including a variety of media (drawing, painting, sculpture) and subjects (portraits, figure painting, still life). Peale signed the painting with his name and with a visual pun: the apple peel spilling off the plate of fruit.

[caption id="attachment_22593" align="alignright" width="200"]A painting which creates the illusion of an ascending staircase set in a door frame, with the first step physically attached to the front of the painting, extending slightly onto the paintings (doorway) frame on each side. In the painting, two boys ascend the staircase, one (at left, ascending the stairs, facing slightly away from the viewer) with a palette and paintbrush, the other merely peering out from behind the frame, higher up the stairs at the left side. In Charles Willson Peale’s The Staircase Group, his sons Raphaelle and Titian Peale climb an illusionary staircase. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Taken as a group, Peale’s most famous paintings illustrate his favorite themes: family, art, and science. The Staircase Group (1795) includes two of Peale’s sons, and Exhuming the First American Mastodon (1806-08) and The Artist in His Museum (1822) attest to the artist’s dual interest in art and science.

Charles Willson Peale, who married three times and fathered eighteen children, named many of his children for famous artists and scientists. He and his first wife, Rachel Brewer Peale (1744-90), had eleven children; seven of them survived childhood, although one son died at the age of eighteen. After Rachel’s death Peale married Elizabeth De Peyster (1765-1804), with whom he had another seven children, five of whom lived to become adults. Peale’s third wife, Hannah More (1755-1821), helped him raise his youngest offspring.

Six of Peale’s sons were named for Renaissance and Baroque painters: Raphaelle (1774-1825), Rembrandt (1778-1860), Rubens (1784-1865), two sons named Titian (1780-98 and 1799-1885), and Vandyke Peale (1792-94). The first three became important painters in their own right, while Titian the second became an artist and naturalist. Three of Peale’s daughters were named for important painters: Angelica Kauffman (1775-1853), Sophonisba Angusciola (1786-1859), and Rosalba Carriera (1788-90), who died in childhood. Two of Peale’s sons were given scientific names: Benjamin Franklin Peale (1795-1870), called Franklin, was named for the artist’s close friend; Charles Linnaeus Peale (1794-1832) was named for the famous Swedish botanist and zoologist.

Peale’s oldest son, Raphaelle, celebrated as the first professional American still life painter, was not as successful as his father or his brother Rembrandt. Raphaelle displayed his work for the first time in the 1795 exhibition at the Columbianum, showing seven still lifes and five portraits. Raphaelle’s most famous canvas may be his 1822 trompe l’oeil close-up of a white cloth with sharp creases titled Venus Rising from the Sea – A Deception (After the Bath). It includes a feminine arm and long blonde hair above the cloth and a dainty bare foot below it, suggesting a female nude hidden just out of sight.

Rembrandt Peale in His Father’s Footsteps

[caption id="attachment_22590" align="alignright" width="250"]A portrait of Raphaelle's brother, Rubens Peale, seated at a wooden table, head angled slightly, with his hand around the clay pot of a large, green geranium plant with thick stalks and small red flowers. Rubens holds a pair of glasses on the table with his other hand, while wearing a pair of smaller diameter spectacles midway up his nose. He wears a reddish-brown coat and white scarf and undershirt. His hair is brown and the background is a slightly amber tannish-brown tone. Rubens Peale with a Geranium (1801) features Rubens Peale, a botanist as well as a painter, sharing the spotlight with a flowering geranium rumored to have been the first specimen of this exotic plant ever grown in the New World. (National Gallery of Art)[/caption]

The portraitist Rembrandt Peale, considered the best painter among Peale’s sons, sketched George Washington while the president sat for his father. His “porthole” portraits of the president, bust-length portraits framed within a painted stone oval, including the iconic Patriae Pater (c. 1824), represented an important addition to America’s national iconography. Rembrandt painted Thomas Jefferson (1800 and 1805), Napoleon Bonaparte (1811), and other wealthy sitters, as well as self portraits and images of family members. His most interesting portrait, Rubens Peale with a Geranium (1801), is a double portrait of man and plant.

Like his father, Rembrandt was a founder of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He also followed in his father’s footsteps as a museum entrepreneur, establishing Peale's Baltimore Museum and Gallery of Fine Arts in 1814. Its collections of paintings by Rembrandt Peale and other artists were displayed alongside specimens of natural history, including the mastodon skeleton exhumed in 1801.

Although he became known for his still life paintings, Rubens Peale had weak eyesight and poor health in childhood; he was interested in botany and did not originally plan to become a painter. From 1810 to 1821 he served as director of his father’s museum in Philadelphia, moving to Baltimore in 1821 to help his brother Rembrandt manage the museum there. In 1825 Rubens opened his own museum in New York City, which he called the New York Museum of Natural History and Science. The museum failed after the Panic of 1837, and Rubens moved to the Pennsylvania countryside. After living as a gentleman farmer for twenty-some years, he returned to Philadelphia in 1864. There he studied painting with his daughter Mary Jane (1827-1902) and with Edward Moran (1829-1901), a member of another important artistic Philadelphia family. Most of Rubens’ still life paintings were created in the last decade of his life.

[caption id="attachment_22589" align="alignright" width="270"]A still-life painting of apparently soft, fuzzy peaches on a tan table beneath a thin, silk, sheer piece of fabric. A black hornet lays atop the center peach and a shiny, metal knife with a green plastic handle sits angled beside it. The white, sheer fabric contrasts starkly from a dark backdrop. Raphaelle Peale’s still-life paintings often consisted of simple arrangements with only a few modest components, as seen in Fruit piece with Peaches covered by a Handkerchief (1819). (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Titian Ramsay Peale, Charles’ youngest son, was an artist, naturalist, and photographer. Named for an older brother who died the year before he was born, Titian was the only professional naturalist in the family. He documented animals and scenery in watercolors on an 1819 expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Titian’s drawings were published in American Entomology (1824-28) by Thomas Say (1787-1834) and American Ornithology (1825-33) by Charles Lucien Bonaparte (1803-1857), a nephew of Napoleon (1769-1821). An interesting watercolor titled The Long Room (1822) depicts his father’s Philadelphia museum, then located on the second floor of Independence Hall.

A Broad Family Dynasty

[caption id="attachment_22587" align="alignright" width="245"]A hollow-cut profile silhouette created using a Physiognotrace, or device that drew an outline of a figure or object. The outline was then cut out and had details added with black ink (with a black piece of paper showing through the cutout for shadow-like contrast). Moses Williams, a slave owned by the Peale family, used a physiognotrace to create this profile portrait of Angelica Peale Robinson and many others. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

The Peale dynasty included siblings, their children, and a slave. Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822), Charles Willson Peale’s nephew, was born in Annapolis, Maryland, and lived with his uncle after his parents died. Peale raised him and trained him as a painter. Polk is known for the portraits he made in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., although his career as an artist alternated with jobs in house and sign painting, dry goods, shipping, and a clerkship in the U.S. Treasury Department. Polk’s portraits are less sophisticated than those by his uncle and cousins.

Moses Williams (1777-ca.1825), a slave raised in Peale’s household, was trained in taxidermy and the use of the physiognotrace, a device used to create portrait silhouettes. Even after his manumission at the age of twenty-eight, Williams continued working at Peale’s Philadelphia museum, where he excelled in the art of making silhouettes. A number of Williams’s silhouettes, including those of Charles Willson Peale and some of Peale’s adult children, were acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Library Company of Philadelphia.

[caption id="attachment_22584" align="alignright" width="300"]A painting of James Peale and his family, seemingly walking in a park, or at least, through a wooded area near a river (visible at right, near the horizon). He wears a red coat with brass buttons and a white scarf, and walks arm-in-arm beside his wife, Mary Claypoole, who wears a blue and white dress with a yellow shawl wrapped around her body. Four children are also present in the painting. The oldest girl, in a white dress, faces her mother and holds her hand, while a girl in a pink dress (right) dances, and two children, a boy and a girl, sit on the ground (center). The girl holds an infant and the boy wears a black top hat and is holding an apple. A large, leaning, red-leafed tree is directly behind them, with small plants and foliage in the foreground. A cloudy blue sky can be seen in the distance. Four of James Peale’s daughters, depicted here in his Artist and His Family (1795), continued the Peale painting legacy as they became artists, variously specializing in still life, portraiture, and miniatures. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

Charles Willson Peale’s younger brother James (1749-1831), best known for his portrait miniatures that were usually painted in watercolor on ivory, also painted larger portraits, still lifes, and a few landscapes and historical subjects. A portrait by Charles, James Peale Painting a Miniature (c. 1795), shows him at work. Charles painted James again later in life, in a canvas called The Lamplight Portrait (1822); in the later work he is shown studying a portrait miniature of a woman. James was the father of one son and five daughters, most of them shown in his outdoor family portrait The Artist and His Family (1795).  

Considered the first professional American woman artist, Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-85), James’ youngest and most talented daughter, established her reputation for portraits of political leaders including Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), painted in 1842, and the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), painted in 1825 (location unknown). Sarah worked in Baltimore with her cousin Rembrandt Peale in 1818, 1820, and 1822, and moved there in 1825. During her Baltimore years, she created over one hundred commissioned portraits including the noteworthy publisher Fielding Lucas Jr. (1781-1854), painted c. 1835-40, and José Sylvestre Rabello (1807-91), the first Brazilian chargé d’affaires in the United States, painted in 1826. Sarah also made occasional visits to Washington, D.C., for portrait commissions. In 1847, she moved to St. Louis, where she earned her living entirely through her art for thirty years. She returned to Philadelphia in 1878 to spend her later years with her sisters.

[caption id="attachment_22591" align="alignright" width="243"]A double portrait of Anna and Margaretta Peale by James Peale. Anna (left) wears a white dress with a yellow-cream-colored shawl draped over her shoulders. Her younger sister Margaretta (right, about 10 years old) grabs the shawl, reaching across. She wears a red dress. Both are pale with rosy cheeks, blue eyes, and blondish-brown hair, not unlike their father. They are set on a background that is similar in tone to their hair, getting darker toward the right and top areas of the painting. Anna Claypool Peale and Margaretta Angelica Peale, portrayed in this c. 1805 portrait by their father, James, became successful still-life painters. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

Four other siblings painted, although their work and professional careers were less impressive. The most talented was Anna Claypool Peale (1791-1878), who painted portrait miniatures and still lifes. Visiting Washington, D.C., several times between 1818 and 1820, she painted such eminent citizens as James Monroe (1758-1831), Henry Clay (1777-1852), and Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), painted in 1819. Margaretta Angelica Peale (1795-1882) and Maria Peale (1787-1866) painted still lifes and an occasional portrait, but very few of Maria’s paintings remain extant. James Peale Jr. (1789-1876) painted still lifes, landscapes, and marine subjects; as with Maria, only a few of his canvases are known today.

The Peale family of painters continued into a third generation with the daughters of Rembrandt and Rubens. Rembrandt’s daughter Rosalba Carriera (1799-1874), named for a Rococo painter from Venice (as well as for an aunt who died young), painted landscapes as well as portraits. She also explored printmaking, a medium popular with nineteenth-century artists. Rembrandt’s daughter Emma Clara (1814-82) was a recognized Philadelphia painter during her lifetime, and her twin brother Michael Angelo (1814-33) intended to become an artist but died young. Rembrandt’s second wife, Harriet Cany Peale (1800-69), was initially his student; she continued to paint portraits and still lifes, and to copy paintings by her husband, after their wedding.

Rubens’ only daughter, Mary Jane Peale (1826-1902), was the last living artist in this notable family. She studied painting with her uncle Rembrandt—who created a beautiful portrait of her as a girl—and with the Philadelphia painters Thomas Sully (1773-1872) and James Reid Lambdin (1807-89). Mary Jane painted still lifes and an occasional portrait. Her most interesting painting may be a small interior scene depicting her elderly father working at his easel.

Mary Jane Peale’s death, announced by the New York Times in 1902, signaled the end of the Peales’ reign as Philadelphia’s first family of painters. For over a century the influence of the Peale family was felt in the city’s art world, its museums and other cultural institutions, and by the wealthy citizens who purchased their work, and left a legacy for the region and the nation.

Kate Nearpass Ogden, Professor of Art History at Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey, received her Ph.D. from Columbia University. Her publications have focused on nineteenth-century American painting and photography.

Painters and Painting

Philadelphia has a long, distinguished history as a center of American painting. In addition to the work of individuals and artistic family dynasties, the history of Philadelphia painters is linked with the city’s art schools, particularly the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), founded in 1805. Working locally and abroad, Philadelphia painters have connected the region with artistic trends and have produced works that made Philadelphia known to the nation and the world.

[caption id="attachment_18551" align="alignright" width="225"]An eighteenth century style portait created by Gustavus Hesselius depicting a woman. Gustavus Hesselius painted this portrait of an unidentified woman in 1751. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Portraiture was the first subject to prove lucrative for American artists. In colonial Philadelphia, as in other early American cities, those who gained sufficient wealth to acquire art usually first purchased paintings of themselves and their families. Portraits validated personal status and wealth and served to venerate loved ones. Wedding portraits—pairs of paintings depicting husbands and wives, created around the time of their wedding—were very popular. Philadelphians also commissioned more portrait miniatures, typically painted in watercolor on ivory, than the residents of any other American city.

Although English art influenced most early Philadelphia painters, the first notable portraitist was Swedish-born Gustavus Hesselius (1682-1755), who settled in Philadelphia around 1735. His best-known canvases depict the Lenape chiefs Lapowinsa and Tishcohan (c. 1735); these are rare early portraits of Native Americans. Hesselius’s son John (1728-78), born in Philadelphia, also painted portraits. Other early portraitists, including the itinerant artists Robert Feke (c. 1705/07- c. 52) and John Wollaston (active 1742-75), visited Philadelphia in search of commissions.

[caption id="attachment_18548" align="alignright" width="225"]A celebratory portrait of Benjamin Franklin celebrating his scientific accomplishments. Benjamin West created this portrait to celebrate the life of his close friend, Benjamin Franklin. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Like others, Benjamin West (1738-1820) painted the city’s social, political, and business leaders, but he also diversified into historical, biblical, and mythological subjects that helped to establish a shared national iconography. Born near Philadelphia in Springfield, Pennsylvania— in a house that became part of the campus of Swarthmore College—West became the first American artist recognized abroad. In 1763 he moved to England, an important destination and stylistic influence for American painters during the colonial and early federal eras. West ascended to president of the Royal Academy, and in that role he influenced numerous younger artists including the Philadelphia painters Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), and Thomas Sully (1773-1872).

Peale Dynasty

The first of the region’s artistic dynasties emerged from the family of Charles Willson Peale, a central figure in Philadelphia’s art world as a painter, museum founder, and patriarch of a family of artists and scientists. Born in Chester, Maryland, Peale moved in 1776 to Philadelphia, where he established Peale’s Museum a decade later. Peale became best known for his portraits of Revolutionary War notables: George Washington, who posed for him seven times between 1772 and 1795, appears in many variant portraits; and Benjamin Franklin, who posed in 1785, was painted again four years later in a variant that references his lightning experiment. Portraits of these men and others—including Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock—were displayed in Peale’s museum of natural history alongside scientific specimens, making a powerful statement of nationalistic pride.

Peale married three times and fathered seventeen children, including the painters Rembrandt, Raphaelle (1774-1825), and Titian (1799-1885), all named for famous artists. Rembrandt Peale, like his father, became known for portraits of Washington, who posed for the Peales in person more often than for any other artist. Raphaelle Peale emerged as the first professional American still life painter. Titian Ramsay Peale, an artist-naturalist, accompanied expeditions to Florida and Georgia, the Rocky Mountains, and South America and illustrated publications based on these journeys. Charles Willson Peale’s brother James (1749-1831) was also an artist, specializing in portrait miniatures and still lifes, the same subjects painted by his daughter Anna Claypoole (1791-1878). James’ daughters Margaretta Angelica (1795-1882) and Sarah Miriam (1800-1885) specialized in still life. In 1824, Anna and Sarah Peale were the first women elected academicians at PAFA.

As America’s leading financial center and the nation’s capital in the 1790s, Philadelphia attracted immigrant artists and painters from the surrounding region. Rhode Island-born Gilbert Stuart, one of America’s most skillful early portraitists and a student of Benjamin West in London, began a ten-year residence in Germantown in 1795. During that period, George Washington posed for Stuart one day and for the Peales the next. Stuart created three portraits of Washington: the bust-length Athenaeum portrait (1796) that appears on the one dollar bill; the bust-length Vaughan portrait (1795); and the full-length Lansdowne portrait of Washington in his study (1796). Stuart himself painted and sold many copies of these three portrait types.

Popularity of Marine Painting

As an important port city, Philadelphia also supported a robust group of marine painters who produced seascapes, a popular Romantic-era subject, and harbor scenes that appealed to patrons who founded their fortunes on overseas trade. One of the first marine specialists was the English-born Thomas Birch (1779-1851), who came to the United States with his artist father William Birch (1755-1834). In addition to painting ships at sea and harbor scenes, the younger artist assisted his father in preparing a portfolio of twenty-nine engravings known as Birch’s Views of Philadelphia (1800).

The next generation of Philadelphia marine painters included James Hamilton (1819-78) and his student Edward Moran (1829-1901). Hamilton’s romantic marine paintings often represented the passions of nature, with stormy weather and glowing red sunsets. Moran specialized in painting ships at sea; by the 1890s, he was widely considered America’s leading marine painter. Moran came from an artistic Philadelphia family. His brother Thomas (1837-1926), the most famous of the Morans, also studied with Hamilton; both brothers eventually left for New York, the country’s economic and artistic capital beginning in the mid-1820s. Their younger brothers, painters Peter (1841-1914) and John (1831-1902), gained less distinction.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, cultural institutions and artists’ societies enhanced Philadelphia as a center for art. Charles Willson Peale and his colleagues founded two of the nation’s first art schools. The Columbianum (1794), a loose association of artists, intended to hold exhibitions and start an art school; it sponsored the first display of American art in 1795, but closed the same year. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, founded in 1805, became more successful; by the twenty-first century it was the oldest American art school still in operation and maintained an impressive museum of American art. The Society of Arts (1810) offered art classes from 1811 until 1814. The Artists’ Fund Society of Philadelphia (1834) organized exhibitions and aided needy artists and their families. The Artists’ and Amateurs’ Association of Philadelphia (1839) promoted American art in a city whose citizens then preferred to purchase paintings imported from Europe.

Portraiture, including iconic images of national leaders, remained a competitive enterprise in the nineteenth century. The English-born Thomas Sully led the field, followed by John Neagle (1796-1865) and Bass Otis (1784-1861). Sully worked in a dramatic, painterly manner like Gilbert Stuart, with whom he studied briefly. Over time, PAFA acquired more than forty portraits by Sully and more than twenty by Neagle, his son-in-law and former student. Neagle took an active role in the city’s art circles, serving as director of PAFA (1830-31) and as a founder and president (1835-43) of the Artists’ Fund Society.

[caption id="attachment_18550" align="alignright" width="300"]A claudian landscape painting depicting the Delaware Water Gap. Thomas Doughty portrayed the Delaware Water Gap in this 1827 painting. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Landscapes also appealed to Philadelphian patrons. Paintings of American scenery by Joshua Shaw (1776-1860) and Thomas Doughty (1793-1856), two of the nation’s first landscape painters, conveyed pride in the young republic. Shaw, one of the painters who founded the Artists’ and Amateurs’ Association of Philadelphia and promoted the Artists’ Fund Society, came to Philadelphia from England in 1819. Doughty, a native of Philadelphia, became the first American-born landscape painter. Referencing European culture, their romanticized landscapes include stylized trees framing the scene, dark foregrounds, small figures that provide a focal point, central lakes or streams, and distant hills. Philadelphians considered them more sophisticated than straightforward paintings of identifiable American places.

John Lewis Krimmel

German-born John Lewis Krimmel (1786-1821) focused his attention on distinct local scenes. A student of Sully, Krimmel lived in Philadelphia from 1809 until his death in 1821. As America’s first specialist in genre subjects, or scenes of everyday life, Krimmel painted Election Day (1815) and Fourth of July Celebration in Centre Square, Philadelphia (1819). These lively street scenes include individuals of various ages and professions. With works such as Black People’s Prayer Meeting (1813), Krimmel also became one of the first American artists to depict life among free blacks. Genre paintings, popular in times of change, continued to be produced during the three decades before the Civil War. They were painted by many Philadelphia artists, including William and Thomas Birch, Thomas Sully, John Neagle, Bass Otis, Christian Schussele (1824-79), and Peter F. Rothermel (1812-95).

Local history figured in the work of Edward Hicks (1780-1849), a Langhorne, Pennsylvania native who lived in the area his entire life. A Quaker minister, Hicks learned sign painting to supplement his income. He painted several canvases depicting William Penn’s treaty with the Indians and occasionally included the same subject in the background of The Peaceable Kingdom, a Biblical subject he painted many times.

Iconic American images of a different type were made by John James Audubon (1785-1851). Born in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and raised in France, Audubon came to the United States in 1803 and lived initially at Mill Grove, a farm near Valley Forge owned by his father. An artist-naturalist like Peale, Audubon created a groundbreaking color-plate book, Birds of America, first published in 1827, containing hand-colored engravings of over seven hundred North American bird species.

Paintings of American history provided symbolic validation of the republic. Philadelphia’s leading history painters at mid-century were Peter F. Rothermel, born in Nescopeck, Pennsylvania, and Christian Schussele, born in Alsace, France. Rothermel, a student of Bass Otis, specialized in portraits and dramatic historical subjects, including the 16-by-32-foot Battle of Gettysburg (1870) at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg. Schussele’s group portraits—Men of Progress (1862), depicting famous American inventors, and Washington Irving and his Literary Friends at Sunnyside (1864)— celebrated American inventors, writers, and the beginnings of an American national culture. Both painters became active in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Rothermel as director from 1847 to 1855 and Schussele as the first professor of drawing and painting from 1868 until his death in 1879.

PAFA’s Broad Influence

[caption id="attachment_19208" align="alignright" width="241"]Thomas Eakins based his painting The Gross Clinic off of an actual lecture given by Dr. Gross during a surgery. (Philadelphia Museum of Art) Thomas Eakins based his 1875 painting The Gross Clinic on a lecture by Dr. Gross. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts played an important role in the generation of painters who made their mark on the art world in the United States and in Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Painter, sculptor, and photographer Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), who studied at PAFA in the 1860s before continuing his training in Europe, returned to teach from 1876 to 1886. In addition to portraits of wealthy individuals he painted subjects ranging from shad fishing on the Delaware to William Rush carving his allegorical figure of the Schuylkill River; from singers, scullers, and boxers to boys swimming and women spinning. Eakins’ realistic portraits explored the personality as well as external appearance of his sitters. Among them are The Gross Clinic (1875)— considered shocking at the time because it depicts a bloody surgical procedure in progress—and boating scenes such as Max Schmidt in a Single Scull (1871). Following an influential decade teaching at PAFA, in which he emphasized anatomical studies and working from the nude, Eakins was forced to resign after removing the loincloth from a male model in a class that included female students.

Students and teachers at PAFA were among the American painters who turned to Paris, rather than London, to develop and exhibit their talents during the final decades of the nineteenth century. Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), born into a wealthy family near Pittsburgh, began taking classes at PAFA at the age of fifteen. She settled permanently in Paris in 1871, following a trip abroad with fellow Philadelphia artist Emily Sartain (1841-1927). In Paris Cassatt became a friend of Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and exhibited portraits of friends and family members with the French Impressionists.

Cecelia Beaux (1855-1942), born in Philadelphia, trained with Christian Schussele at the Academy. Beaux studied art in France from 1888 to 1889, then returned to paint portraits of Philadelphia’s high society in a style reminiscent of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). In 1895, she became the first woman to hold a regular teaching position at PAFA, where she taught until 1916.

Born in Pittsburgh, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), a student of Thomas Eakins and the only black student at PAFA at the time, became the first African American painter to achieve international recognition. After his PAFA training Tanner moved to Paris in 1891 and flourished. The French government made him a knight of the Legion of Honour in 1923 in recognition of his artistic career. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and PAFA acquired several of Tanner’s paintings, including his unusual interpretation of The Annunciation (1898).

As Art Market Grew, So Did Subject Matter

As the art market expanded, painters specialized in a wider variety of subjects. Two of America’s most famous trompe l’oeil specialists, the Irish-born William Michael Harnett (1848-92) and John F. Peto (1854-1907), a native of Philadelphia, painted illusionistic still lifes in the tradition of Raphaelle Peale. Both studied at PAFA, although neither artist spent his entire career in Philadelphia.

In addition to PAFA, several important Philadelphia painters studied with Howard Pyle (1853-1911), founder of the so-called Brandywine school of illustration. Philadelphia-born Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) attended Haverford College and PAFA before studying briefly with Pyle at Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry. Parrish launched his career with illustrations for L. Frank Baum’s Mother Goose in Prose (1897), although he became best known for his colorful paintings of androgynous, neo-classical women in outdoor settings.

Another student of Pyle, painter Violet Oakley (1874-1961) of Jersey City, New Jersey, attended PAFA briefly before studying illustration at Drexel. With Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935) and Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954) Oakley was one of the “Red Rose Girls,” named by Pyle for the Villanova, Pennsylvania, inn where they lived and worked at the beginning of the twentieth century. In addition to her illustration work, Oakley painted forty-three murals for the state Capitol in Harrisburg, including images of William Penn and the founding of Pennsylvania (1906, 1911-27).

While many of the region’s artists sought opportunities abroad, a group of local painters founded a movement that came to be known as Pennsylvania Impressionism. Centered primarily in New Hope, Bucks County, the group included Daniel Garber (1880-1958), W. Elmer Schofield (1867-1944), Edward Redfield (1869-1965), and Fern Coppedge (1883-1951). Like their French predecessors, they created landscapes and occasional figural subjects in a loose, painterly manner. They generally remained in the area, painting the Pennsylvania landscape that inspired them.

The Ash Can School

Other artists, including several key members of the Ash Can School, left for New York City. Painting gritty urban streets scenes and images of the poor, they were named derisively for the ash cans or dustbins then used to collect refuse from wood and coal fires. The group included the “Philadelphia Four”—George Luks (1867-1933), William Glackens (1870-1938), John Sloan (1871-1951), and Everett Shinn (1876-1953)—who studied with the realist painter Thomas Anshutz (1851-1912) at PAFA. They were also influenced by Robert Henri (1865-1929), then teaching at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (later Moore College of Art and Design). Around the turn of the century, Henri and the Philadelphia Four moved to New York.

One of the Philadelphia Four, William Glackens, also helped bring modern European art to Philadelphia. Glackens traveled to Paris in 1912 to buy paintings for collector Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951), a Philadelphian who collected Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early Modern art with a focus on European painters. A chemist and eccentric who scorned the art world establishment, Barnes displayed the paintings in his Barnes Foundation museum and art school in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, established in 1922 and moved to Center City Philadelphia in 2012.

Philadelphia continued to produce notable painters in the twentieth century, including several early modernists inspired by Cubism. John Marin (1870-1953), born in New Jersey, studied at PAFA before spending the rest of his career in the New York area and his summers in Maine. Stuart Davis (1892-1964) was born into an artistic Philadelphia family: his mother was a sculptor, his father an art editor for the Philadelphia Press. Davis moved to New York in 1909, initially studying with Robert Henri. Arthur B. Carles (1882-1952) was born in Philadelphia and attended PAFA; after a decade in Paris and New York, he returned to teach at the academy from 1917 to 1925.

New York and Paris also attracted the artist Man Ray (1890-1976), born Emmanuel Radnitsky in Philadelphia. His early canvases exhibited Cubist influence, but in the 1920s and 1930s he painted in a Surrealist style. Man Ray considered himself a painter but became better known for the Dada-inspired assemblage sculptures and photographs he created in Paris.

Two of the best-known Precisionist painters—Charles Demuth (1883-1935) and Charles Sheeler (1883-1965)—studied at PAFA. Known for their clean, precise style, the Precisionists painted American factories, skyscrapers, and machines. Born in Lancaster, Demuth remained a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania; his Lancaster home became the Demuth Museum, exhibiting his work. Sheeler, born in Philadelphia, owned a farmhouse in Doylestown that he frequently featured in his paintings. He shared the house with his artist-friend Morton Schamberg (1881-1918), also an alumnus of PAFA, until Schamberg died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Sheeler left Pennsylvania to spend most of his career in the New York area.

New Deal Art Program

During the Great Depression, art programs of the federal New Deal supported painters in producing new work for Philadelphia and elsewhere. The Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts sponsored mural painters across the country. Partly in response to this patronage, New Deal art was usually optimistic in mood and realistic in style. The most prominent artists to paint murals in Philadelphia were Raphael Soyer (1899-1987) and his twin brother Moses (1899-1974), who traveled from New York to decorate the Kingsessing Branch of the U.S. Post Office (1939). New Deal muralists also included local painters George Harding (1882-1959) and Walter Gardner (1902-96). Harding created extant murals for the Philadelphia Customs House (1938) and the North Philadelphia Post Office (1939); Gardner painted The Streets of Philadelphia for the Spring Garden Post Office (1937).

[caption id="attachment_19206" align="alignright" width="234"]Horace Pippin painted images based off of his life experiences of segregation and military service. (Philadelphia Museum of Art) Horace Pippin drew inspiration for his paintings from his life experiences with racism and segregation, as seen in this 1943 work titled Mr. Prejudice. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Other New Deal artists worked on a smaller scale, employed by the Federal Art Project’s Easel Division. Julius T. Bloch (1888-1966), a resident of Philadelphia, specialized in sympathetic portraits of African Americans. One depicts the self-taught painter Horace Pippin (1888-1946), who was born in West Chester and returned there after World War I to paint historical subjects and images of life among black Americans. Another African American artist, Dox Thrash (1893-1965), became best known for the Depression era paintings and prints he created between 1936 and 1939.

Philadelphia area painters have often shown a predilection for realism. Three generations of the Wyeth family—another artistic dynasty, rooted in the Brandywine Valley—specialized in realistic illustrations and paintings. N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), a former student of Howard Pyle, became best known for illustrating The Last of the Mohicans and Treasure Island. N.C. Wyeth’s son Andrew (1917-2009) painted Christina’s World (1948), the Helga series, and other works in tempera and watercolor. Andrew’s son Jamie (b. 1946) specializes in human and animal portraits.

[caption id="attachment_18549" align="alignright" width="207"]An Alice Neel portrait depicting the famous art critic Clement Greenberg's daughter. Alice Neel's distinctive style can be seen in the centrality of the sitting subject and the unfinished look of the painting. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

The region’s realist painters also included Alice Neel (1900-84), born in Merion Square (Gladwyne) and educated at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (Moore College of Art and Design). A portraitist who worked mostly in New York, Neel painted expressive images of her family and friends, fellow artists, poets, and others.

Abstract Expressionists

Several artistic movements of the twentieth century inspired followers in Philadelphia. The best-known Abstract Expressionist with a connection to the city was Franz Kline (1910-62), who was born in Wilkes-Barre but attended Girard College before leaving the area. The Abstract Expressionists James Kelly (1913-2003) and Sonia Gechtoff (b. 1926) had stronger connections to the city. Born and trained in Philadelphia, they met and married in San Francisco before moving permanently to New York. The Op Art movement inspired Virginia-born Edna Andrade (1917-2008), who studied at the Barnes Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania, and PAFA. Andrade taught at the University of the Arts for thirty years. Warren Rohrer (1927-95), born in Lancaster County, painted abstractions in a Minimalist or Color Field style and taught at the University of the Arts for twenty-five years.

[caption id="attachment_18451" align="alignright" width="300"]This mural depicts recent immigration to South Philadelphia from Mexico.  (Mary Rizzo) Produced by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, this mural depicts recent immigration to South Philadelphia from Mexico. (Photograph by Mary Rizzo for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Philadelphia became known as a city of murals. Through the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, founded in 1984, painters produced more than 3,800 works of public art through collaborations with community-based organizations, city agencies, schools, and philanthropic organizations. The results included Kent Twitchell’s Dr. J (1990) at 1219 Ridge Avenue, featuring former Philadelphia 76er Julius Erving, and Meg Saligman’s eight-story-high Common Threads (1998) at Broad and Spring Garden Streets, which highlighted humans’ shared concerns.

In the multi-cultural, pluralist art world of the early twenty-first century, Philadelphia’s painters ranged from avant-garde artists who combined painting with installation and other art forms – Alex Da Corte (b. 1980), Jane Irish (b. 1955), Karen Kilimnik (b. 1955), Odili Donald Odita (b. 1966) – to more traditional painters working in a range of realistic and abstract styles – Moe Brooker (b. 1940), Sarah McEneaney (b. 1955), Elizabeth Osborne (b. 1936), and Becky Suss (b. 1980). An expanding network of museums, galleries, and artists’ collectives provided fertile ground for established and emerging artists, giving Philadelphia a diverse and active art world.

Kate Nearpass Ogden, Professor of Art History at Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey, received her Ph.D. from Columbia University, New York. Her publications have focused on nineteenth-century American painting and photography.

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