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Sarah Miriam Peale

 (1800 - 1885)
Sarah Miriam Peale was active/lived in Missouri, Pennsylvania.  Sarah Peale is known for portrait painting-notables, figure, still life.

Sarah Miriam Peale

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Biography from the Archives of askART

One of the many artist descendants of Charles Willson Peale, Sarah Peale was born in Philadelphia and became one of America's first professional female artists and a leading portrait painter of her day. She also did still lifes. Her art career lasted nearly sixty years, and she supported herself financially and successfully competed with male painters of that time including John Wesley Jarvis, Thomas Sully, and Jacob Eichholtz.

Her father was James Peale, a brother of Charles Willson, and her family called her Sally. She took early art training from her uncle, Charles Willson Peale, in his studio in Washington D.C., and he, unlike her father, was a believer in the equality of women and encouraged her to pursue her talent.

He led her to many good contacts by taking her to numerous social events in Washington D.C., where she charmed many people in society, which, in turn, secured her important commissions.  She was also a close friend of Thomas Sully, another prominent portrait painter, and he took Sarah and his own daughters to lectures on anatomy, a subject closed to women of that era because of the indelicacy of the subject.

Her first large painting, a self portrait, was completed in 1818.  From 1816 to 1831, she worked between Philadelphia and Baltimore, and then in 1825 moved to Baltimore where she worked in the Peale Museum run by her cousin Rembrandt.  She became the most sought after portraitist of Baltimore, painting more than one-hundred of its leading citizens in a style that was regarded as skillfully realistic. Her subjects looked dignified, pleasant, and capable and had expressions that conveyed the idea they were genuinely human. Her early work had more decorative touches than her later pieces.

Although most commissions were from people who sought her, she also solicited commissions such as that of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French Ambassador, whom she contacted to pose for her when he came to Washington. He agreed and sat four times, but unfortunately the work is lost.  Other politician subjects include Senator Thomas Hart Benton, Caleb Cushing and Daniel Webster.

In 1824, Sarah Peale became the first woman elected an Academician of the New York National Academy, which was in those days was the stamp of an artist's authenticity of meeting certain prescribed standards. Her sister, Anna Claypoole Peale, was also among the first female Academy members.

In 1845, because of ill health, she moved to St. Louis, Missouri at the invitation of its United States Senator, Trusten Polk. She liked the city and stayed for thirty-two years, becoming that city's leading portrait painter.

Towards the end of her life, she took an increasing interest in still-life painting and won many prizes at the St. Louis fairs and other exhibitions. Reflecting the changing, loosening of styles, her still lifes, often with fruit, are much more freely painted than her early work. In 1878, she returned to Philadelphia, where she, never married, lived until her death in 1885 with two older widowed sisters.

Sources include:
Charlotte Rubinstein, American Women Artists
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia
Sarah Miriam Peale was born on May 19, 1800 in Philadelphia, the youngest of six children.  Her father, James Peale, was a member of the famous Peale family of painters, and her mother, Mary Claypoole Peale, was the sister of the artist James Claypoole. (1)

James Peale painted portrait miniatures, still-lives, landscapes, and historical paintings, and from 1807 to 1819, his children assisted in the family-run business. Sarah was a studio assistant to her father, and sometimes painted vivid and elaborate fabrics into his works.  In 1817, her career began with the exhibition of two flower paintings at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

In the 1820s, she and her sister Anna Claypoole traveled together from Philadelphia to Baltimore and worked on collaborative sittings of public figures.  In 1824, they both were elected members of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the first women to do so; these two artists were the first American women to achieve professional standing. (1)

Sarah Miriam left Philadelphia in 1825 to study with her cousin Rembrandt in Baltimore and she kept rooms in the Peale Museum, which he ran.  The closing of the museum in late 1829 forced her to move, and until 1846, she had her own studio in Baltimore. She was a popular portrait painter in Baltimore, and her clientele was a cross-section of the upper classes. (2)

From 1841 to 1843, she made several trips to D.C. and painted distinguished public officials; her sitters included Millard Fillmore, General George Armstrong Custer, and the Marquis de Lafayette.  In 1847, Peale moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she painted for 32 years.  Although she advertised herself as a portrait painter as late as 1872, in her later years she concentrated on painting still lives, for which she won numerous awards.

In 1878, she returned to Philadelphia to spend the last years of her life with her two older widowed sisters. Sarah Peale died in 1885.  More than 100 portraits and still-lives have been attributed to Sarah Miriam Peale.

Sarah Miriam was the last continuator of the "Peale" style of painting originated by her uncle, Charles Willson Peale. (3)  Her style reflects the work of her uncle in its clarity of line stressed over brushwork, and the work of her cousin Rembrandt Peale in her talent for rich color and accurate detailing.  Sarah's portraits are distinctive in their precisely rendered furs, laces, and textiles.  Her typical figure shows and upturned mouth with a hint of a smile.  Most of her portraits are single figures, although some are double portraits of a mother and child or of two children.  She also executed many pendant portraits of married couples.  From the mid-1830s on, her portraits predominately show seated half-length figures, and are a standard size of 30" x 25". (4)

She was never consistent in signing her works, and by the mid-1830s, she was not signing them at all.  Also at this time, she moved from the boldness and high color of her early works to a sober style.

1.  Although polite women in the 19th century were expected to have some aptitude in drawing and painting, the pursuit of professional career as an artist was frowned upon.  However, Sarah and Anna excelled because they had a progressive thinking family, good training, and natural talent.

2. During this time, Thomas Sully, Jacob Eichholtz, and John Vanderlyn were also painting portraits in Baltimore, and records show that Sarah Miriam Peale received more portrait commissions than these celebrated male painters. Sully was a close friend, and he took Sarah and his own daughters to lectures on anatomy, which would not have been open to women.

3. Charles Willson Peale, the patriarch of the family, was not only an artist, but also a multi-talented man of the American Enlightenment who founded the first museum for the arts and sciences in Philadelphia.  Peale believed the mind of a woman was equal to that of a man, and he encouraged the artistic careers of the women in his family.

Additional biographical information taken from the following: Nancy Heller, Women Artists: Works from the National Museum of Women in the Arts (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2000); Anne Sue Hirshorn, "Anna Claypoole, Mary, and Sarah Miriam Peale: Modes of Accomplishment and Fortune," Lillian B. Miller, editor, The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy (New York: Abbeville Press, 1996), 221-247; and Wilbur H. Hunter and John Mahey, Miss Sarah Miriam Peale 1800-1885: Portraits and Still Life (Baltimore: The Peale Museum, 1967).

4. Characteristics of Peale's later works are explained in Hunter and Mahey, pp. 10-15.

Submitted by the Staff, Columbus Museum

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About  Sarah Miriam Peale

Born:  1800 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died:   1885 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Known for:  portrait painting-notables, figure, still life

Essays referring to
Sarah Miriam Peale

Women Artists