Brother Jonathan’s Images, No. 3.
Captain Charles W. Peale, 4
Battalion Philadelphia City Associators Artist: Charles Willson PealeYear: Circa 1777-78Collection: American Philosophical Society
The first two installments of Greg Urwin’s Continental
Images appeared two years
ago. Now renamed Brother Jonathan’s Images, and transferred to new caretakers,
number 3 in the series introduces Charles Willson Peale (15April 1741
22February 1827), artist,inventor, naturalist, and entrepreneur, who
rendered morelikenesses of American participants of the War for Independence than any othersingle painter. As soldier and politician Peale took an active role in Revolutionaryevents, an experience that shaped his life and work.Charles Willson Peale was born
on April 15th 1741 in Queen Anne’s County,
Maryland, the son of Charles and Margret Peale. At the age of 13 he was apprenticedto a saddlemaker in Annapolis, Maryland. After completing that apprenticeship,Peale commenced making his living repairing and cleaning watches, at the sametime honing his skills as a painter. In 1767 he went to England to study under theartist Benjamin West, a fellow American. (At the time West was in the process of
completing his work “
General Johnson Saving a Wounded French Officer from theTomahawk of a North American Indian,
“ and had received commissions from
George III for a number of portraits of the Royal Family. He founded the RoyalAcademy of Arts in 1768.). Peale returned to American in the spring of 1769, andbegan to paint full time.
Many of Peale’s family, associates, and patrons were Whigs and his pre
-war writingssuggest that he was dedicated to the Revolutionary cause well before the beginningof hostilities. By 1774, aided by his connections and political affiliation, the artist received a large amount of military-related work. One of the earliest came from JohnDixon, printer of the
, who commissioned Peale to paint the flag of the Independent Company of Williamsburg. While living for a short time inBaltimore, he was then tasked with painting Mordecai Gist's Baltimore Independent Company banner. A description of that flag in the Virginia Gazette vividly reflects
the artist’s growing militancy:
LIBERTY trampling upon TYRANNY, and putting off SLAVERY who isapproaching with hasty strides, and taking hold of DEATH, which isrepresented by a SKELETON on the right hand side. Behind the figure of SLAVERY isa SEA. By the figure of LIBERTY is a column to denote STABILITY, and an extent of country. The motto, REPRESENTATION or NO TAXATION.
In the fall of 1775, at 34 years of age, Peale himself began to engage in the"exercising of war." He began by outfitting himself with a sword for "four guineas"and other martial goods. Finally in June 1776, aiming to heighten his prospects,Peale and his family set off for Philadelphia where they would make their home - off and on - for the rest of his life.