JAMES PEALE (1749–1831)
Still Life with Watermelon, 1829
Oil on canvas, 20 x 26 1/2 in.
Signed, dated, and inscribed (on the back): Property of M.A. Peale / Painted by James Peale / in the 80th Year of his age / 1829 / Presented to [illeg.] / 183[illeg.]
RECORDED: Eric Brockett, “Early American Still Life,” Antiques & Fine Art VII (January–February 2007), p. 289 illus. in color
EXHIBITED: Aspen Art Museum, Colorado, 1996-97, Private Worlds: 200 Years of American Still Life Painting, p. 51, p. 6 illus. in color // Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1998, The American Vasari: William Dunlap and his World, p. 16 no. 41 illus. in color
EX COLL.: M. A. Peale (probably Margaretta A. Peale, the artist's daughter)
James Peale began to explore still life in the early 1800s, after a long career as a portraitist and miniature painter. His transition to this genre was aided by his nephew, Raphaelle Peale, who had established his reputation with his paintings of tabletop still lifes of fruits and vegetables. James Peale adopted a similar format, depicting edibles on plain shelves or tabletops against neutral backgrounds. But whereas Raphaelle Peale created classically structured compositions with perfectly formed, unblemished fruits, James Peale's compositions appear to be randomly arranged, and depict fruits and vegetables that are irregularly shaped or show signs of age. In this way, the elder artist expressed an awareness of the passing of time and the transient nature of life, concerns which would have been especially poignant to him when he painted the present work in his eightieth year. Here, Peale demonstrates his skill in depicting forms with a lifelike reality, while delighting in their sensuous appeal.