Exhibition | Curious Revolutionaries: The Peales of Philadelphia
Curious Revolutionaries: The Peales of Philadelphia
American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 7 April — 30 December 2017
The Peales were an extraordinary early American family, curious in every sense of the word. They were patriots, soldiers, politicians, inventors, explorers, naturalists, entrepreneurs, and world-class, ever busy tinkerers. Above all, the Peales embraced the Enlightenment ideal to expand man’s universal knowledge while improving life on earth.
Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827) and his brother James Peale (1749–1831) began as portrait-painters and miniaturists on the eve of the Revolution. In 1786, Charles Willson converted his portrait studio into the nation’s first successful public museum, housed in the American Philosophical Society from 1794 to 1810. By educating the American public and increasing man’s understanding of the natural world, he believed his museum would cultivate a more enlightened citizenry and advance America’s prestige around the world. The second and third generations of aptly named Peales—most notably Rembrandt, Rubens, Benjamin Franklin, and Titian Ramsay—continued the family business as significant artists, naturalists, and inventors.
Curious Revolutionaries is divided into three major thematic sections: Nationhood, The Philadelphia Museum, and The Peale Family Legacy. The exhibition draws on the APS Library and Museum holdings relating to the Peale family. These include the Library’s Peale-Sellers Family Collection of 19 linear feet, comprising some 38 boxes and 147 volumes of archival materials relating to the family. The exhibition showcases letters and diaries, as well as sketchbooks, painting palettes, hollow-cut silhouettes, and watercolors. The exhibition also features pieces from the APS Museum collections, including oil portraits of early American scientists such as David Rittenhouse; painted miniatures of Peale family members; and patent models, including miniature fireplace designs by Peale and his sons.
On view from April to December 2017, Curious Revolutionaries reveals the Peale family’s role in shaping early American public culture through innovations in art, science, and technology. Through their quest for personal prestige, as well as their commitment to advancing the new American republic, the Peales became influential members of Philadelphia’s artistic, intellectual, and political communities.