Paintings Peale, Charles Willson

Peale, Charles Willson

1741 - 1827

American Portrait Painter

Peale Paintings Reproductions & Biography

Finding that he had a talent for painting, especially portraitures, Peale studied for a time under John Hesselius and John Singleton Copley. Friends eventually 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.

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 War of Independence and eventually gained the rank of captain in the Pennsylvania militia by 1777, having participated in several battles. While in the field, he continued to paint, doing miniature portraits of various officers in the Continental Army. He produced enlarged versions of these in later years. He served in the Pennsylvania state assembly in 1779-1780, after which he returned to painting full-time.

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 portrait.