Charles Willson Peale (April 15, 1741 – February 22, 1827) was an American painter, soldier and naturalist.
Peale was born in Chester, Queen Anne's County,
Maryland the son of Charles Peale and his wife Margaret. In 1749 his brother James Peale (1749-1831) was born. Charles 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 organization, they conspired to bankrupt his business.
Finding that he had a talent for painting, especially portraiture,
Peale studied for a time under John Hesselius and John Singleton Copley; eventually friends raised enough money for him to travel to England to take instruction from Benjamin West. Peale studied with West for two 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.
In 1762, he married Rachel
Brewer (1744-1790). They had ten children. The sons included Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825), Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), Rubens Peale (1784-1865), Titian Peale (1799-1885). Among the daughters: Angelica Kauffman Peale married
Alexander Robinson, and Priscilla Peale married Dr. Henry Boteler.
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. His estate, which is on the campus of La Salle University in Philadelphia, can still be visited. He also raised troops for the revolution and eventually gained the rank of captain in 1777,
having participated in several battles. While in the field, he continued to paint, doing miniature portraits of various officers in the Continental Army, of which he would develop enlarged versions in later years. He served in
the Pennsylvania state assembly in 1779-80, after which he returned to painting full-time.
In 1778, his second son Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), was born. Rembrandt became one of the most important American painters in
Peale painted in the trompe l'oeil style, and was quite prolific as an artist. While he did portraits of scores of historic figures (such as John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton), he is
probably best known for his portraits of George Washington. The first time Washington ever sat for a portrait was with Peale in 1772, and there would be six other sittings; using these seven as models, Peale produced altogether
close to 60 portraits of Washington. In January 2005, a full length portrait of "Washington at Princeton" from 1779 sold for $21.3 million dollars -setting a record for the highest price paid for an American
In 1791, he married Elizabeth de Peyster (d.1804), his second wife, with whom he had another six children. In 1795, they had a son Franklin Peale born on October 15 at Philadelphia. His son Franklin became the
Chief Coiner at the Philadelphia Mint. In 1799, Titian Ramsay Peale (1799-1885), was born, who became an important naturalist and early developer of the science, technique and art of photography.
He also 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, and was later renamed the Peale Museum. This
museum was stocked with artwork supplied by Peale, as well as artifacts of natural history, such as a mastodon skeleton found on the first expedition. After his death, the museum was sold to, and split up by, showmen P. T.
Barnum and Moses Kimball.
In 1802, he had a daughter Elizabeth De Peyster Peale (1802-57), who married William Augustus Patterson (1792-1833), in 1820.
In 1804, he married a Quakeress from Philadelphia named
Hannah More, who raised the children from his previous two marriages.
Peale could accurately be described as a "renaissance man", having developed a certain level of expertise in such diverse fields as
carpentry, dentistry, optometry, shoemaking and taxidermy. He also wrote several books, among which were An Essay on Building Wooden Bridges (1797) and An Epistle to a Friend on the Means of Preserving Health (1803). Each named
for artists themselves, Peale taught all of his children to paint, and three of them, Rembrandt, Raphaelle and Titian Ramsay, became noted artists in their own right.
His brother-in-law was Congressman Nathaniel Ramsey