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Portrait of Charles Waterton by Charles Willson Peale

Charles Waterton by Charles Willson PealeCharles Waterton in his 42nd year, or in other words when he had passed his 41st birthday but not yet attained his 42nd. From the original by Charles Willson Peale (1).

■ Click here to see the painting in colour, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery in London.
The painting itself is in the National Portrait Gallery.

When he first met Squire Charles Waterton, in 1824, the Squire described of his method of taxidermy using the Guiana Red Cotinga and the cat's head that the artist has included here.

Waterton's 'Tiger-cat'
"One of the small Leopards known as Margays (Leopardus tigrinus). Several species of leopard are called by this name. Waterton tamed one of them, brought it home, and actually trained it to run with the fox hounds. It was very useful as a rat-catcher." (Rev. J.G. Wood) (3)

Elsewhere, the Margay is described as being Leopardus wiedii as opposed to Leopardus tigrinus. Leopardus tigrinus is the Oncilla, also known as Tiger Cat or Little Spotted Cat.

In any event, Waterton's cat looks a bit cross like a tiger!

This picture is the frontispiece from Essays on Natural History by Charles Waterton, edited with a Life of the Author by Norman Moore, B.A., published by Frederick Warne & Co., Bedford Street, Covent Garden, 1871.

Painted by Peale in 1824, the portrait hung with the portraits of other distinguished naturalists in Peale's museum in Philadelphia. when the museum was sold, George Ord purchased the portrait and sent it to the Squire at Walton Hall. It was no. 162 in the Walton Hall museum catalogue*.

(* Squire Waterton made the staircase in Walton Hall into a museum and opened it to the public at 'convenient hours'.
■ Read a letter written by Charles Waterton on this subject.
The paper of the letter has the papermaker's watermark of 1855 and, as Waterton died in 1865, the letter must have been written between these dates. This is one sheet of folded paper with the handwriting on one half sheet. Size of written area is 4½ by 7 inches.)

~~~

Extract from a letter to George Ord from Charles Waterton, Walton Hall, 15th April 1855.

Our family returns you its warmest thanks for your much valued present of the picture, which is doubly dear to me, on account of my personal acquaintance with old Mr. Peale and his most talented sons. The portrait is in prime order, quite ready to take its station in what, I would hope, will prove to be its last resting place. Its adventures westward have been most singular and still more singular, that it should ultimately have fallen into the hands of the only gentleman in the United States who knew how much it would be appreciated in a far distant land to the eastward
How I lament the breaking up of Peale's invaluable museum! I long to know into what part of the world the skeleton of the huge mammoth has been transferred.(2)


Charles Willson PealeCharles Willson Peale (1734 - 1827) was a noted American artist who was a prominent portrait painter of the Federal period. He was also an enthusiastic naturalist and established in 1786 a museum of specimens in Independence Hall, Philadelphia. In 1805 he helped found Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Born in Maryland in the year 1741, he was apprenticed to a saddler by the time he was 13 years of age. However, Peale soon learned that his real talent lay in painting. Whilst still a saddler, Peale traded one of his best saddles with artist John Hesselius in exchange for a few painting lessons. Soon, a distinguished group of Maryland gentlemen had provided Peale with funds to study the trade in England with the artist Benjamin West. Peale returned to the USA with an impressive talent for capturing the spirit of his sitters.

In the course of his long career, Charles Willson Peale painted the portraits of hundreds of men, women, and children. He was an inventor, a naturalist, a soldier, and a father to 17 children, many of whom became well-respected artists in their own day.

In 1775, Peale moved to Philadelphia where he joined the city's militia as a private soldier. He rose through the ranks to first lieutenant, and accompanied his unit to the front in December of 1776. He crossed the Delaware River from Trenton into Pennsylvania just as the remnants of Washington's army arrived on the river bank, and later described their crossing as "the most hellish scene I have ever beheld."


Public Culture in the Early Republic, Peale's Museum and Its AudienceBack in Philadelphia, Peale served on a number of American revolutionary committees as well as the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. In 1802, he made a determined effort to provide a pictorial record of the American Revolution for future generations. To this end, he established a museum at Independence Hall to display the portraits he had painted throughout the war.

His later years were dominated by a growing interest in natural history and science, although he continued to paint. Ingenious exhibits of stuffed animals and birds (as well as the reconstructed skeleton of a mammouth that Peale himself unearthed) shared the spaces at his museum with his paintings.

Cover of Public Culture in the Early Republic, Peale's Museum and Its Audience, David R. Brigham, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995. ISBN 1-56098-416-3

Sources
1. Essays on Natural History, Charles Waterton, edited by Norman Moore, 1871.
2. Letter of Charles Waterton, Squire of Walton Hall, Yorks, edited with Notes by R.A. Irwin, published by Rockliff, London, 1955.
3. Wanderings in South America, the North-west of the United States, and the Antilles, in the years 1812, 1816, 1820, and 1824. Charles Wateron, edited by the Rev. J.G. Wood, Macmillan & Co., 1880.

Other sources include:

Hammond - Harwood House, Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.A. http://www.hammondharwoodhouse.org.
Maryland State Archives http://www.md.us/.



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