One of the most acclaimed painters of eighteenth-century America, Charles Willson Peale was as important to Philadelphia as Copley was to Boston. In 1767 Peale became one of the first students of the expatriate American artist Benjamin West in London. There he studied contemporary portraiture,...
One of the most acclaimed painters of eighteenth-century America, Charles Willson Peale was as important to Philadelphia as Copley was to Boston. In 1767 Peale became one of the first students of the expatriate American artist Benjamin West in London. There he studied contemporary portraiture, including the work of West and the leading English painters Joshua Reynolds and Allan Ramsay, and incorporated the delicate color and graceful poses that characterized the British style into his own work. Returning to America in 1769, he produced portraits in Annapolis, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. He also served in the Continental Army for three years, and then finally settled in Philadelphia in 1778. In addition to painting, Peale organized exhibitions and helped to found the Columbianum, the earliest (though short-lived) art academy in the United States. The patriarch of a large, extended family, he also encouraged eight of his children, his brother, four nieces, one nephew, and three grandchildren to careers in the fine arts. Beyond the art world, Peale pursued interests in natural history, paleontology, and taxidermy, among other things. He was truly a man of the Enlightenment—that great age of science and reason in the United States that spawned such accomplished intellectual leaders as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Peale’s portrait of Timothy Matlack honors the sitter’s distinguished public career. A radical Whig, Matlack played an active role in Revolutionary events in and around Philadelphia: he was the engrosser who hand-lettered the original Declaration of Independence, he led a rifle battalion at Trenton and Princeton, and he was elected to the Continental Congress. The items with which he is shown reflect his role in forging the new nation and include the great seal of Pennsylvania and the constitution of that commonwealth, which he helped draft. Also pictured are law books, which attest to his political life, and a Bible, which may refer to his activity in founding the Society of Free Quakers, an alternative form of Quakerism whose followers had been expelled from the pacifist Religious Society of Friends for participating in the Revolutionary War. This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting[http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).
Descended in family of the sitter. Purchased by S. Stockton Buzby from a distant relative; by descent to his daughter, Martha Buzby Legg McPheeters; by descent to her husband, Thomas S. McPheeters, Jr.; 1979, by gift to his stepchildren, John C. Legg, Ridgefield, Conn., Martha Legg Reave, Belfast, Maine, and Louisa Legg Deland, Manchester, Mass.; 1998, partial gift and partial purchase from John C. Legg, Martha Legg Reaves, and Louisa Legg Deland to the MFA, 1998. (Accession Date: September 16, 1998)
A. Shuman Collection—Abraham Shuman Fund