Charles Willson Peale christened most of his seventeen children after famous artists and scientists; however, there is little consistency between the sons' and daughters' namesakes and their adult careers. While Rembrandt Peale did become a painter and the portraitist of this work, Rubens Peale, who sat for this likeness at the age of seventeen, was a botanist.

Painted in Philadelphia, the work could be described as a double portrait because the geranium, reputed to be the first specimen of this exotic plant ever grown in the New World, is as lovingly portrayed as the painter's brother is. The Peale family often collaborated in their endeavors, and here Rembrandt commemorated his brother's horticultural triumph. Rembrandt's own skill is evident in the clearly defined pools of light on Rubens' cheeks. In a phenomenon familiar to all, his glasses focus the beams passing through them, thereby forming the brighter disks of light under his eyes.

Rubens Peale with a Geranium is a supreme example of the unaffected naturalism which typified the artist's early maturity. Combining firm, clear drawing, carefully modulated color, and an intense devotion to detail, twenty-three-year-old Rembrandt Peale produced an eloquent expression of his family's philosophical orientation.


  • Title: Rubens Peale with a Geranium
  • Date Created: 1801
  • Physical Dimensions: w61 x h71.4 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Patrons' Permanent Fund
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Theme: portrait, male
  • School: American
  • Provenance: The artist; James Claypoole Copper, Philadelphia;[1] Mary Jane Peale [1827-1902], Pottsville, Pennsylvania, the daughter of the sitter, Rubens Peale;[2] her nephew, Albert Charles Peale [1849-1914], Washington, D.C.;[3] his cousin, Jessie Sellers Colton [Mrs. Sabin Woolworth Colton, Jr., 1855-1932], Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania;[4] her daughter, Mildred Colton [Mrs. Robert P.] Esty [1883-1977], Ardmore, Pennsylvania;[5] sold to Lawrence A. Fleischman, Detroit, Michigan;[6] (Kennedy Galleries, New York); purchased by Pauline E. [Mrs. Norman B.] Woolworth;[7] (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 5 December 1985, lot 42); purchased through (Kennedy Galleries, New York) by NGA. [1] Rebecca Irwin Graff, Genealogy of the Claypoole Family of Philadelphia, 1893: 79, which does not record Copper's life dates. [2] Copper's gift of the portrait to Rubens' Peale's daughter Mary Jane Peale in 1854 is discussed in the NGA systematic catalogue. For Mary Jane Peale's dates, see the genealogy of the Peale Family in Charles H. Elam, ed., The Peale Family: Three Generations of American Artists, Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts; Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, New York, 1967: 10, and Lillian B. Miller, In Pursuit of Fame: Rembrandt Peale, 1778-1860, Exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1992: 231. For information that she lived in Pottsville, see Carol Eaton Hevner, "Rembrandt Peale's portraits of his brother Rubens", Antiques 130 (November): 1012. [3] Mary Jane Peale bequeathed the portrait to her nephew Albert Charles Peale, the son of her brother Charles Willson Peale (1821-1871) and Harriet Friel Peale; for his dates see Charles Coleman Sellers, "Peale Genealogy," manuscript, Peale Papers Office, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., and The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, vol. 21: 255-56. Albert Peale was one of the executors of Mary Jane Peale's estate. [4] The painting belonged to Jessie Sellers Colton by 1923, when she lent it to the exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. A label formerly on the painting (in NGA curatorial files) gives her name and address, and states that she was the great-niece of Rubens Peale. For her dates see Charles Coleman Sellers, "Peale Genealogy," manuscript, Peale Papers Office, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. [5] Mrs. Esty owned the portrait when it was reproduced in Charles Coleman Sellers, Charles Willson Peale, Later Life (1790-1827), Philadelphia, 1947: 2:opp. 147, fig. 12, and lent it in 1955 to the exhibition at Pennsylvania State University. For her birth date see Charles Coleman Sellers, "Peale Genealogy," manuscript, Peale Papers Office, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; her date of death is recorded in Social Register Association, Social Register, Summer 1978, New York, 1978: 92:98. [6] Fleischman confirmed his ownership of the portrait in his letter of 19 December 1985 to NGA (in NGA curatorial files). [7] Mrs. Woolworth was the owner by 1963, when she lent the painting to the exhibition American Art from American Collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Artist: Rembrandt Peale

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more


Google apps