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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Titian Ramsay Peale

Starting today on my second thousand entries in this blog.
Titian Ramsay Peale III
Self-portrait, ca. 1845
When you're the sixteenth son born into an American family famed for it artistic, scientific, and entrepreneurial pursuits, there rests upon your shoulders something of a burden in upholding the family name. If, also, you happen to be named for a younger brother who died just the year before (at the age of 18) the birthright becomes even more onerous. That was the case with the birth of Titian Ramsay Peale, November 2, 1799. He was the son of Charles Willson Peale, painter, scientist, collector, writer, museum owner and, obviously most of all--father.
As I've written before in detailing the lives of the father (09-19-11), his eldest son, Raphaelle (01-02-12), a second son, Rembrandt (11-25-12), and Charles' younger brother, James Peale (11-11-11), plus an overview of the remaining Peales (sons and daughters, 09-14-10), virtually the whole family painted, and if male, bore the name of a famous painter (even one of several daughters was named for a famous painter, Angelica Kauffman Peale). There was also a Rubens Peale whom I've yet to write about.

Four Elk, Titian Ramsay Peale
As the youngest son in a huge family already overburdened by an abundance of professional artist, Titian Peale might have been excused from following in the family tradition of becoming a painter. He wasn't...or chose not to be. In any case Titian Ramsay Peale took up the brush. He was no Rembrandt or Raphaelle, but he could paint up a respectable landscape, especially if it was populated by some form of wildlife, as seen in his Four Elk (above), which became his area of specialization. Though he was a modestly successful painter's, Titian Peale's real interest was in the rapidly developing field destined to destroy the family's primary source of art income--photography. You see, the Peale family was best known for painting miniature portraits.
Kilauea Volcano, 1842, Titian Ramsay Peale. It looks like hell.

Though early photographs were crude, expensive, and came in only one color--sepia--almost overnight, they replace the costly painted miniatures the Peale sons and daughters turned out by the hundreds over the first fifty years of this country's history. I'm not sure if he was seen as betraying the family's interests, but Titian Peale certainly embraced photography in fulfilling his own interests. Though the science of making images was still too slow for actually photographing animals (even up to the time of his death in 1885) Peale was instrumental in developing both art and science of photography as well as preserving the actual animals themselves (he wrote on taxidermy as well as collecting butterflies). His butterfly collection still exists.
The Peale Museum, 225 N. Holiday Street, Baltimore (1814-1830),
the first building on this side of the Atlantic designed and built as a museum.
Titian Ramsay Peale inherited his father's penchant for collecting, traveling widely throughout various frontier regions of the U.S. and the rest of the world collecting specimens of just about anything that moved, then shipping them home to be displayed next to his family's painted portraits and giant Mastodon skeleton in one of two museums. Unfortunately, Titian was unable to carry on the family tradition of operating private museums (Philadelphia and in Baltimore). Faced with bankruptcy, in 1843, he oversaw the forced sale of the family's last remaining museum collections at a sheriff's sale. Many artifacts were destroyed while others were spread broadly to other museums. He had been however, successful in founding the nation's first gas lighting company in Baltimore around 1818.

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