Charles Willson Peale’s The Artist in His Museum

Meet the Artists of Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture

A painting of a man holding a curtain to another room.

Charles Willson Peale, The Artist in His Museum, 1822, oil on canvas, 103 3/4 x 79 7/8 in., Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Gift of Mrs. Sarah Harrison (The Joseph Harrison Jr. Collection).

About this Artwork

Peale was an artist, naturalist, and patriot. In 1784 he founded a museum designed as “a world in miniature.” He intended its exhibits to teach Americans to see their cultural identity in the nation’s democratic ideals and its natural history. In this painting, he constructed a self-portrait that seamlessly merges his own identity with that of the museum. Charles Willson Peale had served during the American Revolution with George Washington, whose portrait is visible at the upper left. Directly below is the case containing a bald eagle, the national symbol. Peale’s taxidermy tools and his loaded palette and brushes imply an artist still ready and capable. Behind the curtain is the mastodon, the centerpiece of Peale’s Museum.