Sarah Miriam Peale

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Sarah Miriam Peale
Self portrait sarah miriam peale.jpg
Self Portrait by Sarah Miriam Peale, 1818
Born(1800-05-19)May 19, 1800
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
DiedFebruary 19, 1885(1885-02-19) (aged 84)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Known forstill life; portraiture
Still Life with Watermelon, 1822

Sarah Miriam Peale (May 19, 1800 – February 4, 1885) was an American portrait painter, considered the first American woman to succeed as a professional artist.[1] One of a family of artists of whom her uncle Charles Willson Peale was the most illustrious, Sarah Peale painted portraits mainly of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. notables, politicians, and military figures. Lafayette sat for her four times.


Elijah Bosley (1740–1841), by Sarah Miriam Peale, oil on canvas 73.66 x 62.23cm, circa 1825.

Sarah was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest daughter of the miniaturist and still-life painter James Peale, younger brother of Charles Willson Peale. Her mother was Miriam Claypoole. Her father and her uncle trained her as an artist, and she served as her father's studio assistant.[1] During her time as a studio assistant, she gained experience in mixing paints, preparing canvases, and delineating backgrounds.[2]

Sarah and her sisters, Anna Claypoole and Margaretta, were different from the middle class women of the time, as they experienced schooling, how to be a wife and mother, as well as developed entrepreneurial skills from their family such as art.[3]

As a young girl, she gained experience doing the finishing touches on her father's paintings. Her first public works date from 1816 with subjects such as flowers and still-life, but soon turned to portraiture. In 1818, she spent three months with Rembrandt Peale, her cousin, in Baltimore, and again in 1820 and 1822. He influenced her early painting style and subject matter. For 25 years, she painted in Baltimore (1822–1847) and, intermittently, in Washington, D.C.[4] She attended sessions of Congress, and painted portraits of many public figures.[5]

She was accepted to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1824[6] along with her sister Anna Claypoole Peale,[7] the first women to achieve this distinction. She opened a studio in Baltimore in 1831.[8] Over 100 commissioned portrait paintings are known from her time in Baltimore. She was known the most prolific artist in the city during that era.[9] Her oil portraits were quickly sought after by congressmen, diplomats, and other wealthy individuals in the Maryland area.[10] Her portrait work is regarded as stylistically unique due to her usage of detailed furs, lace, and fabrics as well as realistic faces, skin, and hair.[2]

Basket of Berries, 1860

In 1847, ill health caused her to relocate to St. Louis where she became independently successful, one of America's first professional female artists able to earn her living through her work.[6][9] Most of her work from this era is in private hands.[9] Around 1860, she shifted her subjects from portraits back to still-life, but with a natural arrangement rather that the formal ones of her earlier years.[9]

She returned to her hometown in 1878, living out her last years there with her sisters Anna Claypoole (died 1879) and Margaretta Angelica (died 1879).[6][9] Like her sisters, she never married.[11] She died in 1885, aged 85.[9] She is buried at the Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.[12]

Several paintings by Peale were included in the inaugural exhibition of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, American Women Artists 1830-1930, in 1987.[13]


Charles Lavalle Jessop (Boy on a Rocking Horse), 1840. By Sarah Miriam Peale

An incomplete list of exhibited works:


  • Academician, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA, USA (1824)[14]


  1. ^ a b Ogden, Kate (2016). "The Peale Family of Painters". Rutgers University: Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Sarah Miriam Peale | History of American Women". History of American Women. 2015-04-20. Retrieved 2018-03-30.
  3. ^ Miller, Lillian (1996). The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy (1770-1870). Abbeville Press. p. 228. ISBN 0-7892-0206-9.
  4. ^ Maryland Art Source, The Baltimore Art Research & Outreach Consortium, 19 June 2003. Accessed Jan 2010
  5. ^ Miller, Lillian B. (1996). The Peale family: creation of a legacy, 1770-1870. Abbeville Press. p. 240. ISBN 9780789202062.
  6. ^ a b c Dinner Party database of notable women at the Brooklyn Museum.
  7. ^ Morgan, Ann Lee (2007). The Oxford dictionary of American art and artists. US: Oxford University Press. p. 367. ISBN 0-19-512878-8.
  8. ^ "Sarah Peale (1800-1885)". national Women's History Museum. national Women's History Museum.
  9. ^ a b c d e f King, Joan (1987). Sarah M. Peale: America's first woman artist. Branden Books. p. 296. ISBN 0-8283-1999-5.
  10. ^ "Sarah Miriam Peale | National Museum of Women in the Arts". Retrieved 2018-03-30.
  11. ^ Greer, Germaine (2001). The obstacle race: the fortunes of women painters and their work. Tauris Parke Paperbacks. p. 25. ISBN 1-86064-677-8.
  12. ^ "Sarah M. Peale". Find a Grave Website. Nov 4, 2007. Retrieved 5 January 2010.
  13. ^ Eleanor Tufts; National Museum of Women in the Arts (U.S.); International Exhibitions Foundation (1987). American women artists, 1830-1930. International Exhibitions Foundation for the National Museum of Women in the Arts. ISBN 978-0-940979-01-7.
  14. ^ "Anna Claypoole Peale". CLARA Database of Women in the Arts. National Museum of Women in the Arts. Archived from the original on 2010-11-26. Retrieved 2010-11-26. In 1824, she and her sister Sarah Miriam became the first women to be elected members of the Pennsylvania Academy.


  • "Sarah Peale". Dinner Party database of notable women. Brooklyn Museum. March 20, 2007. Retrieved 5 January 2010.
  • Miller, Lillian B. The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy 1770-1870. (Washington, D.C.: Abbeville Press), 1996. ISBN 0-7892-0206-9
  • King, Joan (1 Dec 1987). Sarah M.Peale: America's First Woman Artist. U.S.: Branden Publishing Co. ISBN 0-8283-1999-5.
  • Wilbur H. Hunter and John Mahey: Miss Sarah Miriam Peale: 1800–1885; portraits and still life; exhibition, February 5, 1967 through March 26, 1967, The Peale Museum, Baltimore, Maryland

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