Portrait of Charles Willson Peale

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), Adrian Lamb after Benjamin West (c.1768).
Maryland Commission on Artistic Property [MSA SC 1545-1032]. 

Charles Willson Peale, well-known American portraitist, was born in Queen Anne's County, Maryland in 1741.
He arrived in Annapolis at the age of nine as an apprentice to a local saddler. As a youth, Peale taught himself
to paint by observing the techniques of portraitist John Hesselius. He also acquainted himself with the work
of John Singleton Copley on a visit to Boston, after which Peale won the patronage of the Annapolis gentry.
A number of Peale's Annapolis patrons financed his 1767 trip to London to study with renowned painter
Benjamin West. While learning from West in London, Peale completed two full-length portraits of William Pitt,
one of which he presented to the new State House in Annapolis "as a tribute of Gratitude."  Returning to
America in 1769, Peale lived in Annapolis until 1775, and during those six years, he traveled throughout
the Middle Colonies painting numerous portraits of colonial leaders.

In 1775, Peale moved to Philadelphia where, as an enthusiastic patriot, he joined the city militia as a private.
A man "determined to do his utmost in the common cause of America," Peale to the rank of first lieutenant,
and accompanied his unit to the front in December of 1776.  He crossed the Delaware River from Trenton
into Pennsylvania just as the remnants of Washington's army arrived on the river bank, and later described
their crossing as "the most hellish scene I have ever beheld."

Back in Philadelphia, Peale served on a number of revolutionary committees as well as the
General Assembly of Pennsylvania. In 1802, he made a deliberate effort to provide a pictorial record
of the Revolution for future generations. To this end, Peale established a museum at Independence Hall
to display the portraits he had painted throughout the war.

Although Peale continued to paint, his later years were dominated by a growing interest in natural history
and science.  Ingenious exhibits of stuffed animals and birds (as well as the reconstructed skeleton of a
mammouth that Peale himself unearthed) shared the spaces at Peale's museum with his renderings of
American heroes and other notables.

A true "universal man" who plunged with equal enthusiasm into taxidermy, "moving pictures,"
making false teeth and designing mechanical farm equipment, Charles Willson Peale is best
remembered as the "Artist of the American Revolution." He was the patriarch of what became an
extraordinary family of American painters which included his children Raphaelle (1774-1825),
Rembrandt (1778-1860), Rubens (1784-1865), Titian Ramsay (1799-1885), with niece
Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-1885), and nephew Charles Peale Polk (1767-1866).

The Maryland Commission on Artistic Property collection of state-owned artwork includes
eleven portraits by Charles Willson Peale.
Among them are

Washington, Lafayette and Tilghman at Yorktown,
William Pitt,
William Paca
and George Washington

This information resource of the Maryland State Archives is presented here for fair use in the public domain. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: Rights assessment for associated source material is the responsibility of the user.

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