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March 1, 2010

New Exhibition Charles Willson Peale and His Family at Belfield on View at La Salle University Art Museum

David Gelston, 1792 by Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741-1827), oil on canvas

Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741-1827)
David Gelston, 1792
oil on canvas

From 1810 to 1821, renowned American painter Charles Willson Peale resided at the Belfield Estate, which is now part of La Salle University’s Northwest Philadelphia campus. To mark the bicentennial of Peale’s purchase of the property, the La Salle University Art Museum will host the exhibition Charles Willson Peale and his Family at Belfield from March 1 to April 30, 2010.

The exhibition features artwork from Charles Willson Peale and the most prominent artists in his family, including his brother James; his children Rembrandt, Titian, Rubens and Raphaelle; his niece Sarah Miriam; and his granddaughter Mary Jane.

“The exhibition highlights one of America’s premier artistic families, drawing attention to the way in which Charles Willson Peale’s artistic interests intersected and overlapped with those of his brother, children, nieces and even granddaughter,” said Madeleine Viljoen, Ph.D., Director and Chief Curator of the La Salle Art Museum.

In his lifetime, Charles Willson Peale completed more than 1,100 paintings. As one of the most prominent portrait painters during Colonial America, he painted Benjamin Franklin and Presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. (Peale painted seven portraits of the first president.)

The exhibition draws attention not only to Belfield, an important historic site in Philadelphia, but also to Peale’s various pursuits. James Butler, La Salle Professor of English and author of Charles Willson Peale’s ‘Belfield’: a History of a National Historic Landmark, 1684- 1984, wrote, “As founder of the nation’s first natural history museum and an organizer of the country’s first art school (now Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts), as inventor and holder of patents in bridge design, vapor baths, and fireplaces, as excavator in 1801 of a mastodon skeleton near Newburgh, N.Y., Peale has been called an American Leonardo da Vinci.”

La Salle acquired most of the Belfield Estate over the years, beginning in 1926. The remaining eight acres, including the farmhouse, were purchased in 1986. The Peale farmhouse still remains on La Salle’s campus—the building was converted into office space and now houses several administrative offices, including that of President Brother Michael McGinniss, F.S.C. The studio where Peale produced much of his work during his Belfield years is now the President’s reception room.

The Art Museum is drawing its loans for the exhibition primarily from local institutions, including the Germantown Historical Society, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the American Philosophical Society, the Berman Museum at Ursinus College, and a number of private collections. These loans are supplemented with works from the Museum’s own permanent collection, including Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of David Gelston, Rembrandt Peale’s Self-Portrait, James Peale’s portrait of Emily Ann Rush, and a still-life drawing by Charles Willson Peale’s granddaughter Mary Jane Peale.

The Art Museum has invited two well-known Charles Willson Peale scholars to present lectures in conjunction with the exhibition—Carol E. Soltis and Robert McCracken Peck. Soltis, Project Associate Curator for the Peale Collection Catalogue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, will speak on Tuesday, March 2 at 3:30 p.m. in Dan Rodden Theatre. Her lecture, “To Breathe a Purer Air: Charles Willson Peale’s Belfield Years, 1810-1821,” will focus on Peale’s work during his Belfield years.

An opening reception will follow Soltis’ March 2 lecture. In honor of Peale’s interest in farming during his Belfield years (he exchanged numerous letters with Thomas Jefferson during his Belfield years discussing various crops), the opening reception features a special menu from La Salle Executive Chef Royer Smith consisting of locally-raised and produced fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses.

On April 8, Robert McCracken Peck, Senior Fellow at the Academy of Natural Sciences, will present “Ordering the Cosmos: Charles Willson Peale and the Philadelphia Museum” at 12:30 p.m. in Dan Rodden Theatre. Peck will discuss Peale’s objectives for his natural history museum and focus on Peale and his sons as naturalists. Both Soltis’ and Peck’s lectures are free and open to the public.

The La Salle University Art Museum is located on the lower level of Olney Hall on La Salle’s campus. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The museum is open most Sundays during the spring semester. Admission is free, though donations are accepted. Classes and groups can schedule an appointment. For additional information about the exhibition or the Art Museum, call 215.951.1231, or visit

About the La Salle University Art Museum:

The La Salle University Art Museum began in 1965 as a study collection for the University’s art history majors; it opened in its current location, on the lower level of Olney Hall, in 1976.  The collection has grown as a result of acquisitions and donations from friends and collectors. The Museum houses more than 4,000 objects and is currently the only university in the Philadelphia area to own a permanent display of paintings, drawings, and sculptures from the Renaissance to the present.