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James Peale Sr.Captain John Ansley
Signed and dated (at lower right): J. Peale Colonial / Federal Period James Peale was the baby of the Peale family, a circumstance that defined him in life continued to circumscribe his artistic reputation long after his death. He was first apprenticed, as a thirteen-year-old, to his older brother, Charles Willson Peale, to learn to be a saddle-maker, a trade that both Peale brothers soon abandoned. In 1765, James was again apprenticed, this time to a carpenter-cabinet maker. But, in the end, he was destined to return for vocational instruction to his eldest brother. In 1769, when Charles Willson Peale returned to Maryland from England, whence he had been sent for further professional instruction by local patrons impressed with his native ability, he determined to teach both of his brothers to draw. Charles’s younger brother, St. George Peale (1745–1778), showed an aptitude for art, but he was already launched upon a promising career as a civil servant in Maryland, and did not live long enough to reconsider his choice. James, in contrast, became his brother’s studio assistant, turning his woodworking skills to the tasks involved in frame-making. Exhibiting the family talent for drawing, he went on to become a painter and a professional partner to his older, very enterprising brother. While it was a common refrain of American artists who aspired to the “higher” calling of history painting—John Singleton Copley, John Trumbull, and Samuel F. B. Morse, in particular—that portraiture was what one did to earn a living but not to earn esteem or a lasting reputation, the Peales were able and amply willing to serve as portrait-chroniclers to a young America. James Peale fought with the Maryland brigade of the Continental Army during the Revolution, attaining the rank of captain before he returned to civilian life in 1779. He remained a lifelong member of the Maryland chapter of the Order of Cincinnatus. Peale married Mary Claypoole (1753–1829), sister of the little known and poorly documented Philadelphia artist James Claypoole (about 1743–about 1812), in 1782, and together they raised a family of six children. Three of their daughters, Anna Claypoole (1791–1878), Margaretta Angelica (1795–1882), and Sarah Miriam (1800–1885), became professional artists, joining the extended family of painting Peales. Peale painted this portrait of Captain John Ansley (1769–1822) in 1801, when Peale was living in Philadelphia. The sitter also lived in Philadelphia, and he was married that year to Christina Smith (1780–1818)—presumably the occasion for the commission of the present portrait. (No pendant portrait of Christina Ansley by James Peale is known.) Ansley was the son of Ozias and Charity Whitenait Ansley of Staten Island, New York. Captain Ansley was a Loyalist and a British Officer who died at sea in Indonesia. James Peale’s portrait of Ansley remained with the Ansley family for many years, and from the time of his death to about 1850 the portrait hung among the portrait collection at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
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