Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860)
Watercolor on ivory
Rembrandt Peale, the son of artist Charles Willson Peale, is depicted here by his uncle James Peale. The year James painted this portrait was a pivotal one in seventeen-year-old Rembrandt's life. In 1795 Charles founded the Columbianum, a museum that later became the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and he turned over his practice in oil portraits and silhouettes to his two oldest sons, Raphaelle and Rembrandt. Eager to establish himself professionally, Rembrandt signed the Columbianum's charter and began taking commissions, such as Henry William DeSassure's request for a life portrait of George Washington. With the help of his father and uncle, who arranged the sitting, Rembrandt took the president's likeness in 1795. Family pride suffuses James's portrait of his nephew. Groomed from birth by name and training to be a great artist, Rembrandt was poised at the brink of his professional career when his Uncle James captured him, part boy, part man. As a teacher and promoter of the next generation, James depicts Rembrandt as a young gentleman whose fine clothing could attract an affluent clientele. As an uncle, James also conveys Rembrandt's introspective personality, which found expression in serious attention to artistic studies and a passion for writing romantic verses. As a token of remembrance, the miniature would have eased the separation as Rembrandt began traveling in search of commissions. Watching his uncle paint his portrait was no doubt also intended as a lesson for Rembrandt in the art of miniature painting---a field his older brother Raphaelle embraced for a time while Rembrandt, who probably made some miniatures, concentrated on larger works.
Robin Jaffee Frank, “Telling Tales: Three Small Portraits Punctuate a Bigger Story,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2001): 37, fig. 7.