Charles Peale Polk

born Annapolis, MD 1767-died Richmond Courthouse, VA 1822
Annapolis, Maryland, United States
Richmond Courthouse, Virginia, United States
  • American

Born March 17, 1767, in Annapolis, Md. Moved with his family to Charles Town, Md., 1775. His mother died in 1773 and his father in 1777. Adopted by his uncle Charles Willson Peale, 1776. Lived in Philadelphia, 1776–91; studied painting with his uncle. In Baltimore, 1791–96. Itinerant painter, 1796–1801. Lived in Washington, D.C., 1802–19. Worked as a clerk for the Treasury Department, 1802–19. Was a founder of the First Baptist Church, 1802. Retired to Richmond County, Va., 1820. Died May 6, 1822, in Richmond County, Va.

Andrew J. Cosentino and Henry H. Glassie The Capital Image: Painters in Washington, 1800–1915 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1983)

Luce Artist Biography

Charles Peale Polk was born in Annapolis, Maryland, but lived with his parents only until he was ten. He was orphaned and went to live with his uncle, prominent artist Charles Willson Peale, who provided him with a sound artistic education in Philadelphia. Much of his training involved copying other artists’ work, including his uncle’s paintings. By the time he was eighteen, Polk had married, and the job of supporting a family became a priority. Like many portraitists seeking to make a living, he traveled in search of commissions, and his journeys took him through Maryland and Virginia. After years of hard luck and several side trips into trade, he started to enjoy some success, obtaining commissions through personal contacts around Virginia. He painted portraits of James Madison’s family and Thomas Jefferson, who was vice president of the United States when he sat for Polk. In the mid-1790s, Polk moved to Washington and worked as a clerk and copyist in the Department of the Treasury. The last years of his life were spent in Richmond County, Virginia, as a part-time painter and gentleman farmer (Simmons, Charles Peale Polk, 1767-1822: A Limner and His Likenesses, 1981).