American Icons: The Peale Family and George Washington

Charles Willson Peale was one of America’s leading artists during the American Revolution and the early years of our nation. He was the patriarch of an extended family of artists including Raphaelle, James, Rembrandt, Rubens, Franklin, Sarah Miriam and Titian Ramsay Peale, who produced portraits, still life and landscape paintings. As a resident of Philadelphia, Charles became acquainted with many of America’s revolutionary-era heroes, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, whose portraits he painted.

Long before his death and even before he served as president, the country loved George Washington. As Commander-in-Chief, he was escorted to the battlefields by parades of cheering supporters. After Independence, the American people needed a symbol that would unite their varying and disjointed regions and stand for something that made everyone proud. They embraced Washington as the man sent to them to do just that. The public’s civic worship of Washington led to a nearly religious worship of him after his death. Over the next two centuries, this hero worship of the Father of His Country would take on many forms, including his depiction on various fine and decorative art objects.

  • Martha Washington
    ca. 1855
    oil on canvas
    Rembrandt Peale
    born Bucks County, Pa.1778
    died Philadelphia, Pa. 1860
    Museum purchase made possible by Daniel P. and Kathelen V. Amos 2012.26.2

    Rembrandt Peale’s portrait of Martha is based on Charles Willson Peale’s 1795 life portrait of her, with adaptations to make her more youthful and attractive.
    Click here for more information

  • George Washington
    ca. 1855
    oil on canvas
    Rembrandt Peale
    born Bucks County, Pa.1778
    died Philadelphia, Pa. 1860
    Museum purchase made possible by Daniel P. and Kathelen V. Amos 2012.26.1

    This “porthole” portrait of Washington was one of many versions painted by Rembrandt Peale.
    Click here for more information

  • Medal Commemorating George Washington
    1805
    bronze
    Daniel Eccleston of Lancaster, England, publisher
    Dies cut by Thomas Webb, British, active 1804-1827 Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Seaver in memory of Claire Flom 2008.58

    Washington is here depicted as commander-in-chief, wearing a suit of armor like that of a Roman warrior. Click here for more information


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