Charles Peale Polk

(American, 1767 - 1822)

Born in 1767 in Annapolis, Maryland, Charles Peale Polk was the son of Elizabeth D. Peale and Robert Polk. After the death of his mother around 1773, he moved to Philadelphia to live with his mother's brother, the artist Charles Willson Peale (1741 1827). When Polk's father died in the Revolution in 1777, Peale and his wife acted as his foster parents. Polk received his artistic training from his uncle, and by the time he was eighteen, he was a professional portraitist. From 1791 to 1796 Polk lived in Baltimore, where he pursued dry goods and shipping ventures, both of which failed. He did, however, continue to paint. More than thirty five portraits, many of them signed and dated, are known from Polk's time in Baltimore, the largest number he painted in any city. These portraits of Herman Henry Schroeder and his wife were executed during this prolific period. In 1801 Polk moved to Washington, D.C., intent on obtaining a government appointment. Although he did secure a clerkship in the Department of the Treasury, his financial problems persisted, and he was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1804 and again in 1812. Polk's career has been thoroughly documented by Linda Crocker Simmons in her catalogue, Charles Peale Polk, 1776 1822: A Limner and his Likenesses, which accompanied the exhibition held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 1981. Simmons gives a succinct appraisal of the artist:

Charles Peale Polk lived a full life, attempting sometimes more than he could achieve . . . . He was an independent American citizen whose father had given his life in battle to establish the nation's independence . . . . He had painted portraits of ordinary people and of some of the leading citizens of that time, including Jefferson and Madison, the intellectual fathers of the new Nation. He had achieved an artistic style of his own that was to be recognized finally with a permanent place in the art history of his country.¹
Note 1. Linda Crocker Simmons, Charles Peale Polk, 1767-1822: A Limner and His Likenesses (Washington, D.C.: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1981), pp 17-18.