Anna Claypoole Peale (1791-1878)

Painting by Anna Peale
"Portrait of a Woman", 1818,
by Anna Claypoole Peale
Art Institute of Chicago

Anna Claypoole Peale was born on March 6, 1791. She was born into an artistic family, one of the six children of James Peale and Mary Claypoole. Her father, a skilled and well-known oil portraitist and miniaturist, trained her in his field. Peale’s sisters and cousins were also talented, but Anna Claypoole Peale is the best known female of the family.  She was rightfully considered a professional artist when she still was in her early teens.

She lived in Philadelphia, a wealthy city with a large market for portraiture in an era prior to photography.  Anna and her sister, Sarah Miriam (called Sally), began by helping their father with painting fabric for shawls, but both sisters soon proved themselves sufficiently talented that they moved on to more lucrative work.  Anna Peale sold her first paintings, copies of French landscapes, at the age of fourteen.

She is best known for her miniature portraits, a medium used by all of her family, but in which she excelled. Her uncle, Charles Willson Peale wrote of her work, “Anna in Miniature is becoming excellent” -- a hefty compliment given that he probably was the era’s most famous American painter. After Anna had been working in Charles' studio for a year, he wrote of her progress, “Her merit in miniature painting brings her into high estimation, and so many Ladies and Gentleman desire to sit for her that she frequently is obliged to raise her prices.”

Anna Peale’s first major exhibition was in 1811, when she was just 20 years old.  Her work was featured at the first exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which was co-founded by her uncle, Charles Willson Peale. She continued to show her artwork there for many years, especially her miniatures. In 1824, Anna Claypoole and her sister, Sarah Miriam Peale, were the first women to be elected members of the Pennsylvania Academy.  

Anna stayed mainly in Baltimore and Philadelphia, but she never was financially dependent on her family and also worked successfully in New York and Boston.    She remained in demand throughout her illustrious career and often had very famous sitters, including two presidents, Andrew Jackson and James Monroe. 

Peale married twice. Her first wedding was in 1829, when she was 38.  Her husband was William Staughton, a popular Baptist preacher and former president of the college that now is George Washington University.  In December 1829, just three months after Peale and Staughton’s marriage, Staughton died.

She waited more than a decade to remarry and was 50 when she wed General William Duncan in 1841. This marriage lasted much longer, until Duncan’s death in 1864. Understandably, Peale did not have any children by either marriage, but she did pass on her artistic knowledge to her niece, Mary Jane Simes, whom she trained as a miniaturist. 

Anna Claypoole Peale left a great mark on the artistic world and on the world as a whole. Even after her death on December 25, 1878, Peale’s artwork remains highly appreciated and valued. Her miniatures and portraits of both famous and ordinary people have been collected by curators around the world, and her work and life inspire artists and non-artists alike.

Taken from Young and Brave: Girls Changing History

Works Cited:

  • Elam, Charles H.  The Peale Family:  Three Generations of American Artists.  Detroit:  Detroit Institute of Arts, 1967.
  • Hunter, Harvey Wilbur.  The Peale Family and Peale’s Baltimore Museum, 1814-1830.  Baltimore:  The Peale Museum, 1965.
  • Miller, Lillian B.  The Peale Family:  Creation of a Legacy, 1770-1870.  New York:  Abbeville Press, 1996
  • Sellers, Charles Coleman. “Peale” in Doris Weatherford’s Notable American Women, vol 3, pgs. 38-40.