The Peale Family
Oil on canvas
Overall: 56 1/2 x 89 1/2 in. ( 143.5 x 227.3 cm )
signed, dated and inscribed: right center: "C. W. Peale painted these Portraits of his family / in 1773. / wishing to finish every work he had undertaken / -completed This picture in 1809!"
Conceived in the early 1770s, Charles Willson Peale's (1741-1827) depiction of his family was the most ambitious portrait undertaken by a colonial American artist up to that time. As a tour de force of artistic conception and technique, it went far to establish Peale as a master portraitist. The warmth of family ties that one finds in the letters and diaries of the Peale family is very much in evidence in the portrait. The theme of love and friendship is underscored by the subject of the painting on the easel at the left, which depicts three maidens signifying the "Concordia Animae" or "agreement of the spirits." The artist appears at left, holding his palette and supervising the drawing made by his brothers, St. George and James. Seated in the middle of the scene is Rachel Brewer Peale, the artist's first wife, and their daughter, Margaret. To the right sit the artist's mother, Margaret, his sister, Elizabeth, and his daughter, Eleanor. Standing behind the table are the artist's sister, Margaret Jane and the Peales' family nurse, Peggy Durgan, while the artist's dog Argus, sits in front of the table. The three portrait busts depict Peale's teacher, Benjamin West, Peale, and one of Peale's earliest patrons, the Virginia-born lawyer Edmund Jennings. The table contains a fine still life, bearing an apple peal, intended as a pun on the artist's name, and the artist seldom surpassed his rendering of fabrics in this picture. The family portrait remained in Peale's possession throughout his life. Some thirty-five years after commencing the picture and after he had essentially retired from painting to devote time to his museum, Peale made certain changes to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. He repainted parts of the background, parts of his own likeness, and included the profile of his beloved dog, Argus. By 1813 the portrait was installed in the Peale Museum where it remained until it was purchased in 1854 by Thomas Jefferson Bryan, who donated the painting, along with his entire art collection to the New-York Historical Society in 1867.
Sellers, Charles Coleman, Portraits and Miniatures by Charles Willson Peale, The Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 42, Part I, Philadelphia: 1952, pp. 157-8, 289. Catalogue of American Portraits in The New-York Historical Society, New Haven: Yale University Press, Vol. 2, 1974, pp. 609-11. Richardson, Edgar P., Hindle, Brooke, and Miller, Lillian B., Charles Willson Peale and His World.. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1983, pp. 28, 197. Miller, Lillian B., ed., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and his family. New Haven: Published for the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution by Yale University Press, c. 1983, n.p. Miller, Lillian B. and Ward, David C., eds., New Perspectives on Charles Willson Peale. A 250th Anniversary Celebration. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991, n.p. Miller, Lillian B., "Father and Son: The Relationship of Charles Willson Peale and Raphaelle Peale," American Art Journal, Vol. 25, No. ½ (1993), pp. 4-61. Miller, Lillian B., ed., The Peale Family, Creation of a Legacy, 1770-1870, Exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art (Nov. 3, 1996-Jan. 5, 1997), The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M.H. De Young Memorial Museum (Jan. 25-April 6, 1997) and The Corcoran Gallery of Art (April 26-July 6, 1997) (New York: Abbeville Press in assoc. with The Trust for Museum Exhibitions, and the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1996). Ward, David C., Charles Willson Peale, Art and Selfhood in the Early Republic. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004, pp. 137-43. Vedder, Lee A. "Nineteenth-century American paintings." The Magazine Antiques 167 (2005): 146-155. Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2013, p. 60.
Gift of Thomas Jefferson Bryan
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.