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Rembrandt Peale
I once had a great uncle who was a commercial artist. I don't suppose I met him more than a half-dozen times before he died. I don't think I ever did see any of his work. At any rate, he had absolutely no influence on me. So, coming from a family with practically no artistic background, like most of us, I can only imagine what it must have been like to be the son of the most famous artist in the country, a man who so expected his sons and daughters to become artists that most of them were named for famous artists. Rembrandt Peale was the second son of Charles Wilson Peale of Philadelphia. He was born in 1778. It's hard to say if he was the most talented of the Peales, but he certainly became the most famous. One would have to suspect he may have been the "favourite son" as well even though his brother, Raphaelle, was the oldest and about half his brothers and sisters were highly respected in the field.

Rembrandt painted his first portrait at the age of thirteen. After over a thousand paintings, he completed his last one just before his death nearly seventy years later. Though initially taught by his father, in terms of training, Rembrandt benefited from something his father had lacked--connections and money. During his early life he made three trips to Europe, studying for varying periods of time in England, France, and Italy. Each time he returned, his style had changed. His early work is done in the tight, controlled, eighteenth century manner of his father. After studying in England at the Royal Academy, he attempted (with only modest success) to adopt the style of the Grand Manner. Later, the influence of French Neo-classicism and Jacques-Louis David can be seen in his work, while several months of copying Renaissance masters in Italy lent his style a certain monumentality not seen in the work of most American painters at time. Interestingly enough, each time he returned from his foreign studies, he taught his father what he'd learned.

Though the Peale name may have been a burden at times, it certainly didn't hurt his career any. He was something of a vagabond, living and working at various times in his life not only in Philadelphia, but Baltimore (where he managed one of his father's museums) Charleston, and New York City. In addition to painting nearly everyone in the country who was anyone, Peale also tried his hand at large-scale history painting as well, including an excellent portrait from life of George Washington entitled Patriae Pater (1795). In fact, during the 1840s, he very nearly made a career of just painting copies of this work, given that he was the only living painter at the time who had painted the "The Country's Father" from life. Known as "porthole portraits" (for their round shape), he did 79 of them. In promoting his work, he also laid claim to the fact that his father had painted the first portrait of Washington in 1772. And like his father, Rembrandt passed on his talent. His daughter, Rosalba Carriera Peale, was a talented nineteenth century landscape and portrait painter responsible for perpetuating many of her father's works in lithographic form.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
29 September 1999

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