Peale, Charles Willson: Later Life and Work

Later Life and Work

In 1779 Peale was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature and was politically active for several years. In 1784 he established what was known as “Peale's Museum,” which was moved to Independence Hall in 1802. Besides a series of portraits of eminent Americans by Peale and his son Rembrandt, it contained a number of Native American relics, waxworks dummies, and specimens of natural history. He invented his own system of taxidermy and was a century ahead of his time in his concept of placing each animal in a simulated natural environment.

In 1801 he formed the first scientific expedition in American history. From a New York state farm he exhumed the skeleton of a mastodon, assembling and restoring the remains for his museum. Two major paintings of his later years underscore his scientific interests, Exhuming the Mastodon (1806–8; Peale Museum, Baltimore) and The Artist in His Studio (1822; Penna. Acad. of the Fine Arts). He was also instrumental in founding (1805) the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and taught there for a number of years. Evidence of his versatility are his numerous inventions: a velocipede, new types of eyeglasses, false teeth, and the polygraph. On the polygraph he collaborated with Thomas Jefferson.

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