Peale Family of Painters


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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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

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)

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.

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)

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

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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

Copyright 2016, Rutgers University


The Peale Family

New-York Historical Society

Charles Willson Peale began working on this family portrait in the early 1770s and put finishing touches on it more than thirty years later, in 1809. The portrait captures the artist peering over the shoulders of his two brothers, St. George and James (left) as they work on a drawing of their mother, seated opposite them (right); his first wife, Rachel Brewer Peale, holding one of their daughters (seated, center); his mother, Margaret, and his sister, Elizabeth, seated to the right; and behind the table, Charles’s sister Margaret Jane (1743-88) and the artist’s cousin Margaret Durgan (d. 1791), who helped raise Peale and his siblings. The young children are usually identified as Peale’s daughters Margaret (1772-72) in the center and Eleanor (1770-73) at the right; both children were deceased by 1773, but may have been memorialized posthumously in this portrait. Charles’s dog, Argus, sits at the front of the portrait, just in front of a symbolic plate of apples, one of them “pealed.”

Behind Charles is a painting of the three maidens, symbolizing an “agreement of the spirits” and representing the harmony and love between his family members. Charles also includes three busts at the upper right: one of his teacher, Benjamin West; one of himself; and one of Edmund Jennings (a Virginia-born lawyer who was one of his earliest patrons). The ambitious inclusion of ten human figures in detailed clothing, an animal, a still life with fruit, a painting on an easel, and busts, as well as the inclusion of symbolic objects, lends the overall impression that Charles Willson Peale intended for this to be his greatest work—not so surprisingly, a work that also served as a tribute to his family. This is thought to be the most ambitious portrait undertaken by a colonial American up to that time.

Charles Willson Peale, The Peale Family, 1773-1809, Oil on canvas, 56 1/2 x 89 1/2 inches. Luce Center, New-York Historical Society. (1867.298)

Artist and His Family

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Artist and His Family captures James Peale's family in an outdoor setting. Four of James Peale’s daughters became artists, variously specializing in still life, portraiture, and miniatures like their father. The most talented were Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-85) and Anna Claypoole Peale (1791-1878). In 1824, they were the first women artists elected as Academicians, or professional members, of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. They often documented the same sitters, with Sarah painting full-size portraits while Anna created miniatures.

James Peale, Artist and His Family, 1795, Oil on canvas, 31 1/4 x 32 3/4 inches. Gift of John Frederick Lewis, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. (1922.1.1)

Self-Portrait with Angelica and Portrait of Rachel

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston

This painting is an appropriate self-portrait of Charles Willson Peale working on a portrait of his first wife, Rachel Brewer Peale, with their daughter, Angelica Kauffman, standing behind him with her hand on the end of his brush, symbolic for continuing within the profession of her father. Rachel gave birth to eleven children, with seven surviving childhood. Including a painting within a painting is a method of breaking the traditional picture plane and often understood as an artistic risk and impressive display of skill. Ambitious attempts to impress viewers like this, or with tromp l’oeil (optical illusions that carefully mimicked perspective), were becoming increasingly common around this time. This painting emphasizes Charles’s skill as a painter as well as the importance he placed on continuing the Peale painting dynasty.

Charles Willson Peale, Self-Portrait with Angelica and Portrait of Rachel, c. 1782-1785, Oil on canvas, 36 1/8 x 27 1/8 inches. The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (B.60.49)

Mrs. Peale Lamenting the Death of her Child (Rachel Weeping)

Philadelphia Museum of Art

This portrait served as a tribute to Charles’s daughter, Margaret, who died of smallpox in 1772. While it originally included just his daughter lying in her bed, he enlarged the painting in 1776 to add a portrait of his grieving first wife, Rachel. This was likely done to add a narrative to an otherwise grim visualization of a pale, lifeless infant.

Charles Willson Peale, Mrs. Peale Lamenting the Death of her Child (Rachel Weeping), 1772, enlarged 1776; retouched 1818, Oil on canvas, 36 13/16 x 32 1/16 inches. Gallery 102, American Art, first floor (Flammer Gallery), Philadelphia Museum of Art. (1977-34-1)

Rubens Peale with a Geranium

National Gallery of Art

A botanist as well as a painter, Rubens Peale shares the spotlight with a flowering geranium rumored to have been the first specimen of this exotic plant ever grown in the New World. Rubens’ gentle face and distinctive eyeglasses appear in several portraits by his brother Rembrandt.

Rembrandt demonstrates his skill by varying his subject matter; he accurately renders the softness of his brother’s skin, the folds of his clothing, and the plant’s satin-like surface, as well as the contrasting metal and glass materials of the spectacles. This portrait serves as both a tribute to the painter’s brother, Rubens Peale, as well as a tribute to his brother’s life passion for botany.

Rembrandt Peale, Rubens Peale with a Geranium, 1801, oil on canvas, 28 1/8 x 24 inches. Patrons' Permanent Fund, National Gallery of Art. (1985.59.1)

Anna and Margaretta Peale

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

James Peale and Mary Claypool had six children together after marriage, five of them daughters. At the time of this painting (c. 1805), Anna (left) is about fourteen years old, and her younger sister, Margaretta, is about ten. While Sarah Miriam Peale was the most accomplished painter among the siblings, having painted over one hundred commissioned portraits, Anna Claypool Peale and Margaretta Angelica Peale were also successful still-life painters. Anna also specialized in miniature portraits, continuing her father James’s legacy. Except for works by Margaretta and Anna, few works by James Peale’s children survive today.

James Peale, Anna and Margaretta Peale, ca. 1805, Oil on canvas, 29 x 24 inches. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. (1902.5)

(The) Artist in his Museum

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

The Artist in His Museum is an image of the artist as museum proprietor. Behind him are shelves full of stuffed birds, portrait paintings above them, and the mastodon skeleton partially hidden by a curtain on the right. In the foreground are details referencing both science and art: taxidermy tools and a stuffed turkey on the left, a painter’s palette and more bones on the right. In addition to having taxidermy skills, Peale was an inventor and amateur naturalist.

Charles Willson Peale, (The) Artist in His Museum, 1822, Oil on canvas, 103 3/4 x 79 7/8 inches. Gift of Mrs. Sarah Harrison (The Joseph Harrison, Jr. Collection), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. (1878.1.2)

Still Life with Vegetables

Philadelphia Museum of Art

James Peale was renowned for his detailed miniature portraits as well as his beautiful still-life paintings. James produced more than two hundred miniature portraits and over one hundred still-lives with fruits and vegetables. He likely transitioned from painting the miniature portraits to producing larger portraits and still-life paintings as his vision became worse with age.

James Peale, Still Life with Vegetables, 1827-1829, Oil on canvas, 16 1/2 x 22 1/2 inches. Gallery 108, American Art, first floor (Fernberger Family Gallery), Philadelphia Museum of Art. (2009-17-1)

Staircase Group

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Charles Willson Peale’s The Staircase Group portrays his sons Raphaelle and Titian climbing a staircase. The wooden step attached to the bottom of the painting emphasized Charles Willson Peale’s intention of creating a tromp l’oeil perspective illusion. Onlookers at the Peale Museum, including George Washington (according to Rembrandt Peale), even mistook the painting for an actual staircase and the painted boys for Charles’ actual sons. Raphaelle is painted holding a palette and brush to emphasize his skill and interest in painting; the younger brother, Titian, had a great interest in the natural sciences, although he died merely three years later, around the age of eighteen.

Charles Willson Peale, The Staircase Group, (Portraits of two of his Sons on a stair case), 1795. Oil on canvas; 89 ½ x 39 3/8 inches. George W. Elkins Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art. (E-1945-1-1)

Fruit piece with Peaches covered by a Handkerchief

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Raphaelle’s still-life paintings often consisted of simple arrangements with only a few modest components: a single peach, raspberries in a bowl, or a half-peeled orange sitting on a book. In this example the artist has explored the transparency of sheer cloth covering fruit.

Raphaelle Peale, Fruit piece with Peaches covered by a Handkerchief
(Fruitpiece, with Peaches)
, 1819, Oil on panel, 12 1/2 x 18 inches. Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection, 2015, Philadelphia Museum of Art. (2015-1-2)

Angelica Peale Robinson

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Moses Williams, a slave for the Peale family, was trained in taxidermy as well as the specialty use of a physiognotrace, a device that could create a silhouette of a subject’s profile. The operator of the device would then cut the silhouette out of the center of the paper. After Moses was freed in 1805, he continued to render striking images with the physiognotrace and work in Peale’s Philadelphia Museum.

Moses Williams, Angelica Peale Robinson (Removed from Album of Peale Museum Silhouettes), 1802, Hollow-cut silhouette with pen and black ink on wove paper, 4 7/8 x 4 1/16 inches. Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection, 2009, Philadelphia Museum of Art. (2009-18-42(172))

Portrait of Yarrow Mamout (Muhammad Yaro)

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Unusual for the time as a portrait of an African American and a Muslim, this portrait depicts a former slave who was born in Guinea, Africa. A literate man who could read Arabic, Mamout owned his own home in Washington, D.C., and was also a stockholder. The man claimed to be 140 years old, something that piqued the aging, 73-year-old Charles Willson Peale’s attention—Mamout’s actual age, however, was around 83 according to historians.

Charles Willson Peale, Portrait of Yarrow Mamout (Muhammad Yaro), 1819, Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches. Gallery 101, American Art, first floor, Philadelphia Museum of Art. (2011-87-1)

George Washington, Patriae Pater

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Rembrandt Peale may have had only one opportunity to paint George Washington from life (when he was seventeen), but he painted him at least seventy-eight times thereafter. His fascination with George Washington was likely shared by many Americans at the time, as indicated by the illusionistic stone inscription at the bottom of the painting: PATRIE PATER, meaning “father of his country.”

Rembrandt used the power of illusion to create an appearance of grandeur, depicting America’s first president apparently standing behind a porthole encircled by an oak leaf wreath made of stone, symbolically featuring a mask of the Roman king of the gods, Jupiter, above. As an indication of impressive artistic ambition and an additional emphasis on the trompe l’oeil perspective, Washington’s long black cloak even flows through the oval.

Rembrandt Peale, George Washington, Patriae Pater, ca. 1824, 72 1/4 x 54 1/4 inches. Bequest of Mrs. Sarah Harrison (The Joseph Harrison, Jr. Collection), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. (1912.14.4)

Related Topics


Time Periods



Related Reading

Cikovsky, Nicolai, Jr., Linda Bantel, and John Wilmerding. Raphaelle Peale Still Lifes. New York: Abrams, 1988.

Hirshorn, Anne. Legacy of Ivory: Anna Claypoole Peale’s Portrait Miniatures. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1989.

King, Joan. Sarah M. Peale, America’s First Woman Artist. Boston: Branden Books, 1987, 2011.

Miller, Lillian. The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy, 1770-1870. New York: Abbeville Press, 1996.

Miller, Lillian. Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, 7 vols. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983—.

Miller, Lillian, and Carol Eaton. In Pursuit of Fame: Rembrandt Peale, 1778-1860. Washington, D.C.: National Portrait Gallery, 1992.

Poesch, Jessie J. Titian Ramsay Peale, 1799-1885, and His Journals of the Wilkes Expedition. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1961.

Schwarz, Robert. A Gallery Collects Peales. Philadelphia: Frank S. Schwarz & Son, 1987.

Sellers, Charles. The Peale Family Three Generations of American Artists. Detroit: The Detroit institute of the Arts & Wayne State University Press, 1967.

Sellers, Charles Coleman. Mr. Peale’s Museum: Charles Willson Peale and the First Popular Museum of Natural Science and Art. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1980.

Related Collections

Related Places

American Philosophical Society, 105 S. Fifth Street, Philadelphia.

State House Square, between Fifth and Sixth Streets and Walnut and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia.

Belfield/Peale House, LaSalle University campus, Twentieth Street and Olney Avenue, Philadelphia.

Locations of Selected Works of Art

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118-128 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia. Charles Willson Peale, The Artist in His Museum (1822); James Peale, The Artist and His Family (1795); Rembrandt Peale,  Patriae Pater (c. 1824).

Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia.  Charles Willson Peale, Rachel Mourning the Death of Her Child, Her Daughter Margaret (1772-76), The Staircase Group (1795), and Portrait of Yarrow Mamout (1819); Raphaelle Peale, Fruit piece with Peaches covered by a Handkerchief (1819).

Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery (Independence National Historical Park), Chestnut Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets, Philadelphia.  Portraits by Charles Willson Peale.

Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit, Mich. Titian Ramsay Peale, The Long Room (1822); Charles Willson Peale, The Lamplight Portrait (1822).

Embassy of Brazil, 3006 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. (Sarah Miriam Peale, José Sylvestre Rabello (1826).

Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument Avenue, Baltimore, Md. Charles Willson Peale, Exhuming the First American Mastodon (1806-08); Sarah Miriam Peale, Fielding Luca, Jr. (1835-40).

Mead Art Museum, 41 Quadrangle Drive, Amherst, Mass. Charles Willson Peale, James Peale Painting a Miniature (c. 1795).

Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere in Forest Park, St. Louis, Mo. Sarah Miriam Peale, Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1842).

National Gallery of Art, Constitution Avenue and Sixth Street, Washington, D.C. Rembrandt Peale, Rubens Peale with a Geranium (1801).

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York N.Y. Charles Willson Peale, The Peale Family (1773-1809); Rembrandt Peale, Thomas Jefferson (1805).

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, Mo. Raphaelle Peale, Venus Rising from the Sea – A Deception (After the Bath) (1822).

Sotheby’s, 570 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y. Mary Jane Peale, Rubens Peale (n.d.); Rembrandt Peale, Napoleon Bonaparte (1811).

White House Historical Association, 1450 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington D.C. Rembrandt Peale, Thomas Jefferson (1800)

Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St. New Haven, Conn. Charles Willson Peale, George Washington Before the Battle of Princeton (1781); Anna Claypool Peale, Andrew Jackson (1819).



Connecting the Past with the Present, Building Community, Creating a Legacy