Today is July 4, or “Indepenence Day” here in the U.S., a holiday on which we celebrate our freedom from having to pay undue deference to rich people with certain family bloodlines, and instead can devote our worshipful attention to talentless entertainment celebrities — as is just and right.
It’s also a day in which attention is paid to happenings in the mid to late eighteenth century, when the “Founding Fathers” who pushed the British colonies on this continent to independence were doing their thing. At the same time, American artists were coming into their own, painting American subjects and establishing their own styles.
James Peale was a notable American painter of the time, though he is often overshadowed by his more famous and influential brother, Charles Wilson Peale, from who he learned to paint.
Though he had begun to establish a reputation on his own as a still life and portrait painter, when his brother offered him his already thriving practice in painting miniature portraits, James Peale largely set aside his other work and took up painting miniatures, usually in watercolor on ivory.
Later in his career, as his eyesight grew less acute, he moved away from miniatures and back into still life and full size portraiture (see his self-portrait, images above, bottom), as well as some landscapes and history painting. It was as a still life painter that he really came into his own, effectively creating a distinctive and influential style that can be called the Philadelphia school of still life.
I “came across” James Peale recently, as I was plein air painting in the graveyard of Gloria Dei (“Old Swedes”) Church here in Philadelphia, about 30 feet from his grave marker.