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James Peale

Birthplace: Chester Town, Kent, Maryland, America
Death: Died in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Place of Burial: Philadelphia, PA, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Charles Peale and Margaret Peale
Husband of Mary Claypoole Chambers
Father of Jane Ramsay Simes; James Peale, Jr; Margaretta Angelica Peale; Maria Peale; Sarah Miriam Peale and 2 others
Brother of Charles Willson Peale; Elizabeth Digby Polk (Peale) and St. George Peale

Occupation: American painter under- Charles Willson Peale.
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About James Peale

James Peale (1749 - 1831) was born in Chestertown, Maryland, and in 1762, at age 13, became a journeyman in the saddlery business of his brother, Charles Willson Peale. (1) This was followed by an apprenticeship to a cabinetmaker in 1765. About 1769 James joined his brother’s painting studio as a frame maker, painting fitter and general assistant.

  In a letter of 1771, Charles Willson records that his brother was painting by that date. However, James’s early career was interrupted by the Revolutionary War, during which he quickly rose to first lieutenant in General William Smallwood's Maryland regiment. In 1778 he was promoted to captain, and although he resigned his commission the next year, he remained in the army a while longer, no doubt in response to special pleading from George Washington. After leaving the army, James moved to Philadelphia, where he lived with his brother Charles W.'s family until, in 1782, he married Mary C. Claypoole (1753-1829), sister of the artist James Claypoole c.1743-1800 (note: should read c1743-1822).
  After the war, faced with difficulties in finding painting commissions, James benefited from an arrangement (beginning in 1786) whereby he would specialize in painting portrait miniatures in watercolor on ivory while Charles Willson painted life-size portraits in oil. James would become known as one of the country’s best miniaturists.
  James, like many members of the distinguished Peale family of artists, enjoyed a long life and actively painted to the end. The range of his output is extraordinary. Although he had also painted in oils even while specializing in miniatures, failing eyesight caused him to give up miniature painting entirely about 1810. A fine portraitist and one of the founders of the still-life tradition in America, he was also an excellent landscapist in the generation before the full-blown emergence of the Hudson River School. His legacy survived in his children, whom he taught to paint. One daughter, Anna Claypoole Peale (1791-1878), became one of the best miniaturists of her period; another daughter, Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-1885), is considered the first professional female artist the country produced.

NOTES (1) Charles Willson Peale to Benjamin West, Apr. 20, 1771, in The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, ed. Lillian Miller et al., vol. 1, Charles Willson Peale: The Artist in Revolutionary America, 1735-1791 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983), p. 95.

Adapted from an essay by Linda Crocker Simmons, obtained from in June 2008

James Peale (1749 – May 24, 1831) was an American painter, best known for his miniature and still life paintings, and a younger brother of noted painter Charles Willson Peale.


Peale was born in Chestertown, Maryland, the second child, after Charles, of Charles Peale (1709–1750) and Margaret Triggs (1709–1791). His father died when he was an infant, and the family moved to Annapolis. In 1762 he began to serve apprenticeships there, first in a saddlery and later in a cabinetmaking shop. After his brother Charles returned from London in 1769, where he had studied with Benjamin West, Peale served as his assistant and learned how to paint.

Peale worked in his brother's studio until January 14, 1776, when he accepted a commission in the Continental Army as an ensign in William Smallwood's regiment. Within three months he was promoted to captain, and during the next three years fought in the battles of Long Island, White Plains, Trenton, Brandywine, Germantown, Princeton, and Monmouth. He resigned his army commission in 1779, and moved to Philadelphia to live with his brother. (One notable later collaboration, however, was in 1788 to make floats for Philadelphia's Federal Procession in honor of the newly drafted United States Constitution.)


In 1782 he married Mary Claypoole (1753-1828), a daughter of James Claypoole (1721-1784) and sister of portrait painter James Claypoole Jr. (ca 1743-1822), after which he established his own household and artistic career. They had six children. James Peale, Jr.; Anna Claypoole Peale Duncan; Margaretta Angelica Peale; Sarah Miriam Peale; Maria Peale; and, Sophinisba Peale. <>

Three of his six children became accomplished painters: Anna Claypoole Peale (1798–1871), a miniaturist and still-life painter; Margaretta Angelica Peale (1795–1882), painter of trompe l’oeil subjects and tabletop fruit; and Sarah Miriam Peale (1800–1885), a portraitist and still-life painter. His daughter Maria Peale also became a painter of still lifes, though of less distinction than her sisters.


At the outset of his career Peale painted portraits and still-life, and by the mid-1780s had established his reputation. At about this time, however, Charles turned over his own miniature portrait practice to him, and throughout the 1790s and early 19th century Peale devoted himself to miniature painting. Much of this work was watercolor on ivory. In 1795 Peale exhibited a still life of fruit along with nine miniatures and his family portrait at the Columbianum, a short-lived art academy in Philadelphia. Around 1810, as Peale's eyesight began to weaken, he gave up painting miniatures to turn to large portraits and still-life subjects that were greatly admired and widely exhibited in Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore.

The total number of Peale's landscape paintings remains unknown, but he executed more than 200 watercolor miniatures on ivory, perhaps 100 still-life paintings, fewer than 70 oil portraits, and at least 8 history paintings.


Peale died in Philadelphia on May 24, 1831 and is buried at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church cemetery along with this wife and six children.

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James Peale's Timeline

Kent, Maryland, America
Age 36
Philadelphia, PA, USA
Age 38
Age 40
Philadelphia, PA, USA
Age 46
Age 49
Philadelphia, PA, USA
Age 51
May 24, 1831
Age 82
Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, USA
May 24, 1831
Age 82
Philadelphia, PA, USA