Heritage Auctions Offers Charles Willson Peale Miniature Portraits In Beverly Hills

Nine original portrait miniatures by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), known as “The Artist of the American Revolution,” along with five more attributed “in the manner of” Peale, are currently on display and available for private treaty purchase at Heritage Auctions Beverly Hills. They will remain on display until the end of September.

“We believe this is the largest, and certainly one of the finest collections of Peale miniatures that currently exists in private hands,” said Jim Halperin, Co-Chairman of Heritage Auctions. “There is no artist more directly associated with the American Revolution than Charles Willson Peale, making him one of the most important painters in our nations’ history. The chance to see, and possibly acquire, such a significant grouping at one time is not likely to come again anytime soon.”

The nine miniature portraits directly attributed to Peale include images of John Beale Bordley (1727-1804); Richard Cary, and aide to Washington during the Revolution; British General Sir Henry Clinton (1738-1795); Catherine Alexander (Lady Kitty) Duer (1755-1826); Robert Livingston (1746-1813); Mary Riche Swift , Mrs. Charles Swift; Elizabeth Digby Peale; Mrs. Robert Polk (1744-1777); Mary Cox Morris, wife of General Jacob Morris (1759-1827), and General Jacob Morris himself (1755-1844).

Peale was born in Queen Anne’s County, MD. By a chance encounter with artist John Singleton Copley, Peale became his student during the years 1768-1769. In 1770, Peale moved to London, bearing a letter to Benjamin West, who received him and accepted Peale as his student at the Royal Academy, where he studied modeling in wax, casting and molding in plaster, engraving in mezzotint and miniature painting.

In 1774, after studying with West, Peale returned to Annapolis and began painting portraits. In 1776, on the eve of American Independence, he established himself in Philadelphia on the estate of what is now the campus of La Salle University. In short order he became one of the most important painters in the American colonies. Among his portraits are many famous Americans such as George Washington, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, Alexander Hamilton, and his friend Thomas Jefferson.

“He commanded his own company of volunteers during the American Revolution, and shouldered a musket at the battles of Trenton and Germantown,” said Halperin. “Peale’s diary of day-to-day accounts as a militiaman in the Continental Army of George Washington is now found in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.”

During the war Peale began painting portrait miniatures of American patriots and soldiers, both in camp before and after battle. His most famous subject was George Washington, whom he first painted in 1772 while Washington was a Colonel in the Virginia militia. Peale is believed to have completed more than 60 portraits of Washington, including the full length Washington at Princeton (1779), which sold in 1995 for more than $20 million, a record amount for any American portrait.

Peale possessed a great interest in natural history and, in 1785, began collecting and preserving objects for the purpose of establishing a museum. By the following year, he realized his dream and opened the first American public museum, eventually renamed the Peale Museum. In 1791, he began an earnest effort to create an art academy in Philadelphia which eventually bore fruition as the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Charles Willson Peale, Portrait of Sir Henry Clinton (1738-1795). Watercolor on ivory, 1-1/2 x 1-1/4 in. Unsigned.

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