Rubens Peale (May 4, 1784 – July 17, 1865) was an American museum administrator and artist. Born in Philadelphia, he was the son of artist-naturalist Charles Willson Peale. Due to his weak eyesight, he did not practice painting seriously until the last decade of his life, when he painted still life.
Early life and education
He was the fourth son of Charles Willson Peale. Rubens had weak eyes and, unlike most of his siblings, did not set out to be an artist. He traveled with the family in 1802 to the United Kingdom, but was unable to travel on the continent with the resumption of war after the Peace of Amiens. In 1803 he attended classes at the University of Pennsylvania. He was director of his father's museum in Philadelphia from 1810 to 1821, and then of the Peale Museum in Baltimore, which he ran with his brother, Rembrandt Peale. To promote the museum, he installed gas lighting illumination in the museum.
Peale opened his own museum in New York on October 26, 1825. The Panic of 1837 sent his museum into debt. By 1840, Peale changed the name to the New York Museum of Natural History and Science, and competed with the American Museum, of P.T. Barnum. Rubens had to sell his entire collection to Barnum in 1843. He moved to Pottstown, Pennsylvania. In 1837, he retired to the estate of his father-in-law, George Patterson, near Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, and lived as a country gentleman, at Woodland Farm. He experimented with mesmerism, and wrote to his brother Rembrandt about it.
In October 1855, he began keeping a journal, and he turned to still life painting, as an extension of his interest in natural history. In 1864, he returned to Philadelphia, and studied landscape painting with Edward Moran. In the last ten years of his life, he produced 130 paintings.
On March 6, 1820, he married Eliza Burd Patterson (December 6, 1795 – 1864) and they had children Charles Willson, George Patterson, William, Mary Jane (1826–1902) (who also was a painter), James Burd, and Edward Burd. Charles Willson Peale (Feb 15, 1821 – Sept 30, 1871) married Harriet Friel (b. Aug 11, 1830); their son Albert Charles Peale (1849-1914) became a geologist with the US Geological Survey.
In 1985, the National Gallery of Art paid $4.07 million for Rubens Peale with a Geranium, an 1801 portrait by his brother Rembrandt Peale. This set a record for an American work of art sold at auction.
In 2007, Princeton University Art Museum bought Rubens Peale's Still Life With Watermelon, in honor of John Wilmerding.