Chestertown, MD, April 22, 2004 — Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience presents “Peale's Artist in His Museum and the Nineteenth Century Emblem Problem,” a lecture by David Steinberg, Visiting Scholar at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, VA. The lecture will be held Friday, April 23, at 4:30 p.m. in the College's Casey Academic Center Forum, and will explore the intersection of the central problems in visual representation, theology, and natural science through one of Peale's most famous paintings, Artist in His Museum. The event is free and open to the public.
Known primarily as a portrait painter, Charles Willson Peale was born in Chestertown, MD, in 1741. He was apprenticed to an Annapolis saddler at the age of nine, and 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. 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 1779, Peale was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature and was politically active for several years. In 1784 he established what was known as “Peale's Museum,” which was moved to Independence Hall in 1802. Besides a series of portraits of eminent Americans by Peale and his son, Rembrandt, the museum contained a number of Native American relics, waxworks dummies, and specimens of natural history. He invented his own system of taxidermy and was a century ahead of his time in his concept of placing each animal in a simulated natural environment. In 1801, he formed the first scientific expedition in American history. From a New York state farm he exhumed the skeleton of a mastodon, assembling and restoring the remains for his museum. The Artist in His Museum (1822, Penna. Acad. of the Fine Arts) is one of two major examples of Peale's fascination with science, and depicts Peale revealing his prized museum to the viewer.
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 lecture is part of the C.V. Starr Center's American Pictures Series, featuring close-up looks at individual images that have shaped the nation's life, art, and politics, and it is co-sponsored by the Washington College Department of Art. The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, an innovative forum for new scholarship about American history. Drawing on the special historical strengths of Washington College and Chestertown, the Center is dedicated to exploring the early republic, the rise of democracy, and the manifold ways in which the founding era continues to shape American culture. News about upcoming events is available online at http://starrcenter.washcoll.edu/, or by calling Program Manager Kees de Mooy at 410-810-7156.