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James Peale, Sr.

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James Peale Sr. is an American miniaturist, portraitist, and still-life painter of the 18th and 19th centuries. He was born in 1748 and was painter Charles Wilson Peale’s younger brother and pupil. He was active from 1780-1810 and even served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He painted still-lifes and portraits of military officers and the elites of Philidelphia society. Peale’s earliest paintings were still-lifes, a subject he returned to only in his 70s. Scholars believe he avoided the genre so as not to compete with his nephew Raphaelle Peale, a notable still-life painter who developed a stark and dramatic approach to the genre. James Peale Sr.’s still-life paintings show an interest in direct observation and experiment with textures, colors, and the subtle reflection of light upon the surfaces of fruits and vegetables. In his later years, Peale’s still-life paintings took on an exaggerated sense of memento mori, and he began to show fruits and vegetables in stages of barely perceptible decay. His paintings highlight the blemishes, distortions of color, and odd shapes of vegetables to show the transience of life and often use vibrant colors. He died in 1831.

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