American painter, member of a family of artists who were active from c. 1760 to c. 1880, and their commitment to art during a period of revolution and nation-building contributed in a large way to the growth of American artistic interests and institutions. The family was established in America by the English post-office clerk Charles Peale (1709-50), a convicted embezzler exiled to the colonies in 1736. His first son, the portrait painter Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), exerted a major influence on American painting through his own work and that of his sons, brothers and nieces.
James Peale was the brother of Charles Willson Peale. Charles encouraged him to become a painter; James also worked as a frame-maker for his brother until the Revolution, in which he served as a lieutenant. From 1779 James shared Charless practice, specializing in miniatures. His early work, occasionally confused with Charless, shows his brothers influence. After 1794, his style became clearly his own: more delicate with subtle colour harmonies, softened outlines and free handling; it may be distinguished by a faint violet tone in the shadows and the inconspicuous signature IP. His miniatures of male subjects are frequently superior to his portraits of women, but his meticulous attention to costume and his success in imparting colour and sparkle to skin and eyes compensate for drawing deficiencies. James Peale played a significanr role in developing a Philadelphia school of still-life.
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