Charles Willson Peale
Charles Willson Peale was one of the most important American artists of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He helped found the first art academies in the United States and forged a uniquely American style of painting.
In Colonial-era America, there were few options for men inclined toward the visual arts to receive training in painting, sculpture, and architecture. Charles Willson Peale, born in Maryland in 1745, was a visionary artist who set out to change the artistic landscape of the United States by establishing an academy on American soil so that aspiring artists could be trained at home rather than having to travel to Europe - an expensive and politically undesirable option. Peale himself traveled to London to train with painter Benjamin West, whose painting The Fatal Wounding of Sir Philip Sidney hangs in the same gallery at Woodmere .
In 1794, he established the Columbianum, the first art school in the nation. This “American Academy of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Engraving” enjoyed an opening exhibition at Independence Hall. Though it did not last for very long, it was soon replaced when Peale helped to found the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts ten years later.
By the time he had painted Mrs. Francis in 1798, Peale was also heavily involved in the working of his own museum, called the Peale Museum, which was the first institution of its kind in America. Opened on July 18, 1789 in Philadelphia, the collection showcased artifacts of natural history alongside portraits of famous Philadelphians.