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Charles Willson Peale

Born April 15, 1741 - Died February 22, 1827

Charles Willson Peale was an American artist.

Peale was born on April 15th, 1741 in Chester, Maryland. At the age of thirteen, he became an apprentice to a saddle maker. When he came of age he opened a saddle shop of his own. He was not very good at saddle making and when his Loyalist creditors discovered he had joined the Sons of Liberty they did everything in their power to destroy him financially. After closing his saddle shop he tried his had at clock making, which he was unsuccessful at as well.

By 1767, Peale had started painting and discovered he had a talent for it. He studied with American painters before friends raised the money for him to travel to England and study there. He studied in England for three years, returning in 1770. Once home he taught his younger brother James Peale to paint. James became a notable painter as well.

In 1772, Peale had his first portrait with a notable American. He painted a portrait of George Washington, the first of sixty portraits that Peale painted of the first President of the United States. Peale actually had seven official sittings with George Washington. It is from those seven the Peale wold create the sixty portraits. One of Peale's paintings of Washington sold in 2005 for $21.3 million.

In 1776, Peale was fascinated by the fledgling federal government which had been formed in Philadelphia. He moved there to support the cause. He served in the Pennsylvania militia and helped to raise troops. While serving he continued to paint. He painted portraits of various officers in the Continental Army. Later he produced enlarged versions based on his battlefield portraits. Peale would go to paint Horatio Gates, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to name a few.

Peale also had an interest in natural history. From his passion for painting and natural history the Philadelphia Museum, later the Peale American Museum, was formed. Peale eastblished a connection with a British museum and started an exchange of exhibits, with Peale sending American birds, which he learned to taxidermy himself, in exchnage for equal numbers of British birds. Peale also went exploring looking for natural wonders to place in his museum. One such item were the bones of a mastadon, which at the time was still called a mammoth, which Peale assembled the bones for a 3-D display, rare at the time. The mammoth bones put Peale in the middle of a disagreement between Thomas Jefferson and Comte de Buffon, a French naturalist. Jefferson claimed that America had the greater bio-diversity pointing to the mammoth as a massive creater that, at the time, Jefferson beleived still roamed the American continent. Comte claimed that since because the size of the animals in Europe were bigger than the animals in America, that Europe had the greater bio-diversity.

Evenually Peale was forced to close his museum when he was unable to gain funding from the governement. After his passing Peale's collection was split between P.T. Barnum and Moses Kimball, two American showmen.

Peale passed away on Frebruary 22nd, 1827.

Peale's masonic membership is not known. What is known is that in several meeting minutes for Williamsburgh Lodge in Virginia, Peale is listed as Brother Peale wanting to and having borrowed a portrait from the lodge for copying which implies his presence at the meeting.