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Peale Family Museum
THE AMERICAN RENAISSANCE FAMILY
EDGAR A. POE AND THE PEALE FAMILY
Why am I presenting an entire section here about the Peale family in a website about Edgar Allan Poe? Did Poe even know the Peales? Did he specifically know the celebrated painter, Rembrandt Peale? Did Rembrandt Peale paint Poe, in a portrait that is currently unknown? These questions are the chief reason I devote a full section of this site to facts and speculations regarding these issues.
There have been persistent rumors that Rembrandt Peale did paint Edgar Allan Poe. Amanda Pogue Schulte published the ludicrous, "Portrait of Poe by Rembrandt Peale" given here, in her book of Poe portraiture, published in 1926. While the painting is clearly not Poe, my feeling is, "where there's smoke, there is usually fire."
There have also been rumors that Anna Claypool Peale painted Poe. My hypothesis is that Poe knew members of the Peale family quite well. If he did, then the rumors of an authentic and unknown portrait of Poe by one of the most prominent and prolific Peale family members, may be out there somewhere, waiting to be saved from oblivion.
WHO WERE THE PEALES?
Philadelphia was already known as the Art Capital of the United States by 1805, when the renowned Charles Willson Peale moved from his Annapolis, Maryland, hometown to Philadelphia, in 1778.
C.W. Peale settled in Philadelphia in 1778, after studying under the foremost American born artist, Benjamin West. West was living in London, and Peale had the great good fortune of studying with him for three years. He, along with most other painters of the period, regarded West as a demi-god.
C.W. Peale was not only a great painter. He was also an inventor, a natural scientist and a great showman. He founded Peale's Museum, the first Natural History Museum in America. Natural history was an obsession of Peale's, as it was of Poe's. Much like Poe himself, Peale was the ultimate self-promoter and is often compared to P.T. Barnum, who was greatly influenced by C.W. Peale. In 1841, Barnum opened Barnum's American Museum, in New York City, making it one of the most popular showplaces in the United States. He made a special coup in 1842, with the exhibition of Charles Stratton, the celebrated midget "General Tom Thumb."
But Peale's Museum wasn't filled with 'freaks and curiosities.' It displayed wide varieties of birds, animals, fossils, fish, insects, reptiles, vegetables, minerals, floral and plant life and shells, along with an extensive art collection, including over 300 canvases executed by C.W. Peale himself. Peale was fascinated by preserving birds and animals in their natural form and collected every species of birds and animals that he was able to obtain, from all over the world. Rembrandt Peale shared his father's fascination with Natural History and was responsible for some of the best 'finds' in Peale's Museum.
With Poe's great interest in ornithology, conchology, botany and flora/ gardening/ gardens, including Landscape Gardens, the influence of the Peales on Poe and his work cannot be underestimated. That Edgar Poe visited Peale's Museum with great interest is well known. But in this statement, Poe focused primarily on the artistic merits of Peale's Museum: "There are many fine portraits here, particularly by Charles Wilson Peale."
That Poe would have wanted to cultivate a connection with these innovators is evidenced by his own fascination with both painting and Natural History. It is no surprise that Professor Thomas Wyatt asked for Poe's help in preparing The Conchologist's Shell Book, which appeared in 1838. Poe was later lambasted when it turned out that Poe's name appeared as the author, when in fact, he'd only written the preface and introduction, in addition to translating the French of Cuvier, in describing the animals in detail.
In truth, Wyatt asked Poe to put his name to the book to avoid publishing difficulties and admitted that Poe "had no fault" in the matter. The point is, Poe was clearly a conchologist in his own right, if an amateur one, and Wyatt would not have asked him to write the introduction and the preface to this work if he didn't feel Poe's education and interest in these topics made him "the right man for the job."
Wyatt clearly thought very highly of Poe's capabilities in the natural sciences, since he also asked him to help him in the preparation of his Synopsis of Natural History, published in 1839, as well as (most likely) having him write the introduction as well. Four chapters on Science and Art, published in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, March 1840, have also been attributed to Poe.
Peale's four sons eventually took over Museum operations. However, the Peales were forced out of business in 1854, due to the popularity of Barnum's Museum, which in a weird twist of fate, acquired all the holdings of Peale's Museum.
Rubens Peale's Experiments with Mesmerism
Another key connection between Edgar Poe and the Peales, this time with Rubens Peale, came out of their mutual interest in mesmerism. Rubens Peale had been experimenting with mesmerism for years, and in 1844, wrote this revealing statement in a letter to his brother, Rembrandt:
"With regard to mesmerism, I am astonished at the wonderful cures I have made during three years past, but as to whether you ought to believe in it, I am surprised that any doubts exist. The time is not far off when it will be said, 'where is the person who doubts its existence?'"
The theory of Mesmerism was postulated by the Austrian physician of the late 18th century, Anton Mesmer. Mesmer theorized that the human body contained a magnetic fluid, or energy, that could be used to treat serious illnesses, particularly 'nervous disorders.'
In 1841, Rubens Peale advertised to the public that that he would be giving demonstrations of "Animal Magnetism, " as "Mesmerism" was also called, in museums in New York, as well as at the Peale Museum.
Poe's deep respect for the work of the Peale family, not to mention his own keen interest in Mesmerism, probably found he and other friends with mutual interests attending Rubens Peale's lectures.
Poe's keen interest in Mesmerism has been well documented. According to Bruce Mills, in his Poe, Fuller and the Mesmeric Arts: Poe first encountered Mesmerism by attending lectures by Andrew Jackson Davis, one of the founders of Spiritualism.
Thomas Lake Harris and Edgar Allan Poe were among those who attended Davis' sessions in New York City, where Davis delivered, under trance, the text of The Principles of Nature. This statement appeared in an article entitled "E. A. Poe's Death and Burial," in the Spiritual Telegraph for January, 1856. Mary Gove Nichols wrote of Poe attending lectures on Fourierism, a close kin to Mesmerism/ Spiritualism, with Fanny Osgood, in New York, during the 1840s.
In addition, having a widespread reputation for being a Mesmerist himself, which Poe actively encouraged, Poe wrote at least three stories about Mesmerism: The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, Mesmeric Revelation, and A Tale of the Ragged Mountains. Bruce Wills also cites Poe's Eureka; as well as another one of Poe's, Marginalia, as dealing with Mesmerism.
Consequently, we can assume that with both Poe and Rubens Peale living at various times, in both Philadelphia and New York, with their strong mutual interest in Mesmerism and with many friends in common, Poe and Rubens Peale must have at least been acquainted.
THE DELPHIAN CLUB CONNECTION:
Poe biographer Mary Phillips tells us that when Poe moved to Baltimore in 1829, after his brief sojourn as a West Point Cadet, Poe's second cousin, Neilson Poe, was working for the prominent attorney and publisher, William Gwynn. Poe's own father, David Poe, Jr., had studied under Gwynn at his law offices before he (Poe, Jr.) left to become a stage actor in 1805.
So, Gwynn had connections to the Poe family that went back as far as the turn of the 19th century. By hiring Neilson, Gwynn showed allegiance to the Poe family. Obviously, he did not have any major grievances with Poe's father, or he would have been very unlikely to take 'still another Poe' under his wing. Moreover, Gwynn obviously was very fond of Edgar Poe, which is easily proven. If he had not been very fond of Poe, he would never have allowed him into his highly exclusive Delphian Club.
Poe himself felt confident enough with his connections to Gwynn (then editor/owner of the Federal Gazette and Baltimore Daily Advertiser) to show him a copy of his lengthy poem, Al Aaraaf.
Without a doubt, Poe took full advantage of the 'family connection' between he and Gwynn, to get himself introduced into the most popular 'Bohemian resort' of its day, the Delphian Club, only steps away from Gwynn's office. Gwynn himself was the founder of the Delphian Club, which attracted the most famous and influential men of the period. Among the most prestigious members of the Delphian Club were: John Neal, Francis Scott Key, William Wirt, John Latrobe, John Pendleton Kennedy and John Howard Payne. Rembrandt Peale was made an 'honorary member' of the Delphians. Did Poe meet Rembrandt Peale at the Delphian Club? It seems very likely, and if not, Poe would have used his 'clout' with the Delphians to get himself an introduction to Peale.
This list of members of the Delphian Club gives us great insight into how Poe turned social situations to his advantage. He knew how to 'work a room,' how to listen intently, how to impress others with his brilliant ideas, as well as his mysterious, but thoroughly likeable attitude and impeccable manner.
Poe was notorious for his ability to enhance his career and reputation by gaining close, powerful allies. By 1829, Edgar A. Poe was already gaining a reputation as an exciting new poet and writer of tales, which was primarily enhanced in the years that followed by his making the best use of his Delphian connections.
Of the powerful men in this group, we already have ample evidence to prove that Poe knew and was friends with William Gwynn, John Neal, William Wirt, John Latrobe and John Pendleton Kennedy. Many of these men took Poe under their wing as a protégé, and became among his most ardent supporters.
Most Poe scholars give the year 1833, to the time that Poe became close friends with John Pendleton Kennedy and John Latrobe. As 'fellow Delphians,' Poe's connections with Kennedy and Latrobe actually went back to 1829. Not so coincidentally, Kennedy and Latrobe were the judges of the Saturday Visitor contest of 1833, which Poe won for his story, Ms. In a Bottle. The competition and the win brought Poe's name and writing into prominence, thanks to Kennedy and Latrobe. No doubt though, the partiality of the judges began with their keen interest in Poe begun at the Delphian Club.
By 1833, Edgar had written eleven prose extravaganzas he hoped to publish under the title, Tales From the Folio Club. Much 'buzz' accompanied these tales, because it was widely known that the "Folio Club" was based on Poe's friends and experiences at the Delphian Club.
Because Poe's connections with Neal, Kennedy, Latrobe and Wirt are all documented, it is the members and 'guest members' where it has not been established that Poe had any connection that counted most. There are several of great import, but for my purposes here, there is one illustrious Guest Member of the club I explore here, and that is Rembrandt Peale.
POE AND REMBRANDT PEALE
While Rembrandt Peale scholar, Carol Soltis, told me that she does not believe that Poe and Peale 'ran in the same circles,' and cites the fact that Poe is not mentioned anywhere in the correspondence of the Peale family, there is ample evidence to support that Poe did indeed know Rembrandt Peale. The connections of both Poe and Peale to the Delphian Club are one of the strongest proofs of Poe's acquaintance with R. Peale. Poe would have gone far out of his way to meet the man whom was highly regarded not only a fine artist, but also, as a natural scientist and one of the founders of the country's first Museum of Natural History, as well as the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA).
Also, Poe was held in the highest regard by other Delphians, who were all in their own ways, as influential and famous as Peale. Some were, in fact, far more famous and influential, like William Wirt and J. B. Latrobe. Poe would have been introduced to Peale with great enthusiasm by Gwynn, John Neal, John Pendleton Kennedy, John Latrobe and William Wirt. With such an illustrious band of supporters it would seem that Rembrandt Peale would have been as interested in knowing the brilliant young Poe as Poe would have been in getting to know him.
While The "Old Delphian Club" building was given up in 1830, the tightly knit group continued to meet at Gwynn's home, only steps from the former Tusculum. William Gwynn lived until 1854, five years after Poe's death, and the Delphian Club still functioned for many years after giving up their original site.
There are many other strong, mutual connections and affiliations between Poe and the Peale family:
THE PAFA CONNECTION:
Long before C.W. Peale began his Museum, he became renowned as the founder of the Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, aka PAFA, in 1805. This institution became the 'safe haven' for fine artists in America, and being accepted as a student at PAFA was, and is, considered a huge honor.
In 1806, the Academy's Charter was ratified by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the building opened in April. A collection of plaster casts of antique sculptures purchased in Paris by the Academy's agent, Nicholas Biddle, became the core of PAFA's first exhibition. It is important to note that Nicholas Biddle was closely related to Thomas Sully's biographer, Edward Biddle. It was Biddle (and Mantle Fielding) who asserted that Sully did paint Edgar Poe, at the Old Falstaff Club, where Poe was regarded as "The American Byron." Biddle also tells us that Poe's 'close friends,' John Sartain and George R. Bonfield, were present at one of the sittings.
This statement in the biography of Thomas Sully has been virtually ignored by Poe scholars. Yet, it is the key to understanding Poe's clout and reputation in Philadelphia during the 1830s and 40s. The eye-witness testimony puts Poe in the same salon, The Old Falstaff Club, a favorite saloon/club of the day, along with the prestigious Philadelphia artists, John Sartain, Thomas Sully and George R. Bonfield. We are told that Poe was not only a friend to these artists, but that they considered him, "The American Byron."
From this one statement, we learn that Poe was held in the highest esteem by these artists, all of whom had strong connections with PAFA, the Peale family and the most important and influential men in Philadelphia.
Like Sartain, Bonfield himself had enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1820, giving him very strong ties to the Peales, the Sullys and John Sartain. We can assume that this 'revelation,' that Poe was "the darling of the artistic world" in Philadelphia, was intended to reveal Poe's friendship with these artists, yes; but it also implies that Poe was a 'favorite' of the cliques these artists 'ran in.' With such giants as Sartain, Sully and Bonfield as 'regulars' at the Club, many other prominent artists and writers also availed themselves of the privacy of the Old Falstaff Club.
The Biddle family's connection to PAFA, and to both Sully and Sartain, is intriguing. Nicholas Biddle's nephew, Edward Biddle, was obsessed with Thomas Sully and later wrote his biography, in 1905. Clearly, Edward Biddle was also fascinated by Edgar Poe. Biddle provides more information about Sully's painting of Poe than about any other work of Sully's, with the single exception of Queen Victoria!
Edward Biddle's interest in Poe was natural enough, especially since he knew that his uncle was well acquainted with Poe. In 1841, Poe wrote Nicholas Biddle to thank him for: "the kind manner in which you received me when I called upon you at Andalusia, upon so very equivocal an errand."
What 'the errand' was, we don't know. But, the 'favor' Poe was looking for from Biddle was: "Lend me the influence of your name in a brief article for my opening number."
There was also a gift to N. Biddle, of a signed presentation copy of Poe's works, reading "For Mr. N. Biddle, with the author's respects." Clearly, here, we understand that Poe had access to Nicholas Biddle through his various PAFA connections, and this is still another example of Poe wasting no time in 'calling in favors' from those he felt could help his career. Edward Biddle's own keen interest in Sully was born through the connection of Nicholas Biddle to Thomas Sully and Edgar A. Poe.
Nicolas Biddle sat for three separate portraits to Thomas Sully, in 1823, 1831 and 1837. John Sartain engraved Sully's fine bust of Biddle. Many other relations, including Biddle's wife, sat for Sully. In addition, there are 26 listings for pictures of Biddle family members on Thomas Sully's list of paintings! 'Tracking' the life and work of the man who had immortalized many of his family was clearly a priority to Edward Biddle.
Sully left New York for Philadelphia in 1808, because of the Embargo Act of December 1807, which prohibited United States trade with other countries, which greatly hurt the domestic economy and affected even Sully's own portrait commissions. He decided to open a studio in Philadelphia.
In 1815, Charles Willson Peale wrote their mutual mentor, Benjamin West, that "Sully is now following the portrait line with considerable success in the city of Philadelphia." In 1817-18, Sully was a member of the Committee of Correspondence at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and in 1820, 1823, 1824 and 1831, sat on its Committee of Instruction. From 1816-1832 he served on the Academy's board of directors. Sully was elected to the Presidency of PAFA, a high honor indeed, in 1842, but he declined the position due to 'overwork.' Although Sully continued painting and exhibiting at PAFA and other venues until the end of his life, his portrait commissions decreased after 1855, and he suffered terrible financial hardship. To help out, PAFA awarded Sully a generous annual stipend of $1000, from 1867 until his death.
It is also interesting to note that Thomas Sully was chosen to instruct Mary Peale in painting. Mary was C.W. Peale's granddaughter, and the daughter of Rubens Peale.
JOHN SARTAIN, THOMAS SULLY and the PEALES
John Sartain, a close friend of Poe's until a year or so before Poe's death, had become very much involved with PAFA. By the age of nineteen, Sartain had not only become embraced by PAFA, but by both the Peale and Sully families.
The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin printed this fascinating blurb in 1827: "Like the Peale and Sully households, the family of 'Old John Sartain' has achieved much distinction." The reference to Sartain as "old" was meant ironically, as Sartain was born in 1808, only a year before Poe. Sartain was only 19 years old in 1827. The blurb indicates that both the Peale and Sully families had already taken the brilliant young artist under their wing, a sign of great distinction for an English immigrant not yet out of his teen years! The chief reason I provide this quote from 1827, is to indicate just how far back John Sartain's tight association with both the Peale and Sully families went.
It is a staple of Poe biography that Poe and John Sartain became 'fast friends' upon Poe's move to Philadelphia in June of 1838. Poe was fascinated by the art of engraving and spent a great deal of time watching Sartain and other engravers at work. Poe and Sartain indeed 'ran in the same crowd' when Poe moved to Philadelphia. This was rather a wild bunch, which boasted Poe as its leader, and included TD English, George Lippard, William Henry Hirst, Lambert Wilmer, Felix O.C. Darley and Captain Mayne Reid, among others. Reportedly, it was John Sartain who introduced opiates and absinthe into this group, who worked hard and partied just as hard.
We've examined Poe's close connection to Sartain during these years and established that the young Sartain was a protégé of both the Peales and the Sullys. What has not yet been acknowledged is that Poe also was also a protégé of Thomas Sully's, the bond that likely brought Poe and Sartain together in the first place.
In point of fact, Thomas Sully was the 'hero' of this coterie. While we don't know if Sully indulged in the kind of 'excessive partying' that Poe and Sartain were up to, we do know that Thomas Sully was regarded as the 'Father Figure' of this powerful clique. Nowhere is this more evident than in George Lippard's groundbreaking The Mysteries of Philadelphia, aka Monks of Monks Hall. Lippard's testimonials to Sully's noble character stand out in Lippard's book, which is widely known as "the first muck-raking novel" written in America. (See Leslie Fiedler's, Love and Death in the American Novel, as well as his introduction to a new edition of Monks Hall, 1970.)
As many scholars have recognized, Poe's own The Oval Portrait, is a virtual homage to Thomas Sully. For this website, the key point here is that both John Sartain and Edgar Poe were protégés of Thomas Sully, and that both Sully and Sartain were also protégés of the Peale family. Consequently, through Poe's intimacy with both Sully and Sartain, it seems inevitable that Poe would have gotten to know members of the Peale family as a matter of course.
In 1838, Sartain's popularity and success allowed him to purchase an elegant Sansom Street home, that more resembled an art museum than 'a home.' From this time on, Poe was a frequent guest at soirees hosted by the Sartains. Living in close proximity to Sartain were some of the finest artists of the time: John Neagle, John Rubens Smith, Peter Rothemel, Thomas Buchanan Read, Emmanuel Leutze, Joshua Shaw and Jacob Eichholstz. These artists and many others, were part of the high echelon talent received by Sartain in his home. Therefore, Poe had 'introductions,' not only to these artists, but also to anyone else present at Sartain's soirees.
Sartain was not only a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but he later served as Director of PAFA. So, the connections he had made with C.W. and Rembrandt Peale, c.1827, and with Thomas Sully, continued for the duration of all their lives. The Peale, Sartain and Sully families were closely bonded through their work at PAFA. Given Poe's close friendships with both Sartain and Sully, is there any doubt that Poe had more than ample access to any of the Peales, and they to him?
If Poe's friendships with Sartain and Sully weren't enough to provide him with opportunities to become familiar with the Peales, his friendships with Nicholas Biddle, John Pendleton Kennedy, John B. Latrobe, William Wirt and numerous others, would have afforded him opportunities and introductions. For Poe and Rembrandt Peale, there was also the special tie through their Delphian Club 'brotherhood.'
Parties and events at PAFA, soirees at the home of John Sartain, Poe's connection with the Delphian Club, with the Old Falstaff Club, and with the greatest artists and writers of his day, provide overwhelming evidence that Poe and the Peales indeed 'ran in the same circles.'
We cannot forget though, the influence of another great friend and ally of Poe's, the fine writer and publisher, George Rex Graham. After Poe's death, I contend that of all Poe's friends, it was Graham who spoke out most loudly and articulately in defense of Poe.
THE LITERARY SALONS OF GEORGE REX GRAHAM
The literary salons offered by George Rex Graham, proprietor of Graham's Magazine, are legendary. Poe and his coterie, especially John Sartain, Mayne Reid, Felix Darley and certainly, Thomas Sully, were all 'habitual' at these soirees. Graham's rooms were packed with artists, writers and editors. In the year of Sartain's move to Sansom Street, 1838, Thomas Sully painted an exquisite portrait of the lovely Mrs. Elizabeth Graham.
The staff of Graham's Magazine was always welcome at Graham's soirees. Poe was usually the key attraction and often attended with Virginia. Graham himself became still another important mentor to Poe, who provided Poe with great prestige, as well as access to the crème de la crème of Philadelphia society.
The list of artists who attended these soirees reads like a "Who's Who in American Renaissance Art:" Thomas Sully, John Sartain, Henry Inman, Emmanuel Leutze, Felix O.C. Darley, John Neagle, George Bonfield. With so many of Rembrandt Peale's friends, fellow artists and PAFA colleagues, attending Graham's soirees, it is inevitable that he too, attended these functions. The young, handsome, brilliant man who became Editor of Graham's Magazine, a known disciple of not only Thomas Sully's, but of J.P. Kennedy, John Latrobe, and of Graham himself, would have been a fascinating character to Rembrandt Peale, - fascinating enough, I believe, for him to have wanted to paint his portrait. I contend that Rembrandt Peale did paint Poe's portrait, which I will substantiate in my book on The Mysteries of Edgar Allan Poe.