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.