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Charles Willson Peale Self-Portrait

Charles Willson Pealec. 1791

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Born Queen Anne's County, Maryland

A creative and energetic force throughout the Revolutionary era and the early Republic, Charles Willson Peale moved to London in 1767 to study painting with Benjamin West. In 1769 he returned to Maryland, where he made portraits of landowners and their families before settling in Philadelphia in 1776. Peale, a militiaman and political figure, sided with radical factions during and after the Revolution, and painted portraits of national heroes in the fight for independence. His portrait gallery became a feature of his Philadelphia Museum—the nation's first significant museum of natural history—which opened to the public in 1786. His energy and abilities made him a sought-after painter of portraits of George Washington, a correspondent of Thomas Jefferson, and the leader of an expedition to exhume the skeleton of a mastodon. Members of his large family followed in his footsteps as artists, scientists, and museum entrepreneurs.

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