(American, 1827 - 1902)

Water Lilies

Oil on canvas, 10 x 14 inches

Signed and dated at lower left: “MJ Peale 1855”

Water Lilies was painted during a productive period of Mary Jane Peale’s career as a still‑life painter, portraitist, and academic copyist. The fourth of five children of Rubens Peale (1784-1865) and his wife Eliza (1795–1864), she was born in New York and moved with her parents to a farm they acquired in retirement near Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Mary Jane Peale’s journals from about 1847 to 1860 document her art studies and provide context for her works, which is especially important since many of her pictures are not dated. When Peale was studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1856, the theories of John Ruskin were being disseminated in the United States. His emphasis on plants, flowers, and animals in their natural environments was embraced by Mary Jane and Ruskin’s influence was evident in the plethora of compositions of berries placed in woven baskets or strewn on the grass, painted in the studio but suggestive of natural spontaneity. Seasonal gifts from friends and relatives of cherries, raspberries, and strawberries accordingly became subjects for Mary Jane’s small pictures that could be integrated into larger compositions, such as the raspberries spilling from a basket in her Still Life (n.d.; Mead Art Museum, Amherst) of seasonal and exotic fruits representing the bounties of nature, then a popular theme in American still lifes.

Rubens Peale was encouraged by his daughter’s energy. Father and daughter companionably shared a studio, and both were productive painters; she in fact instructed her father and copied Peale family paintings that hung in the family parlor and in their studio, while absorbing Rubens’s memories of their biographic associations.

About the Artist

(American, 1827 - 1902)

Mary Jane Peale was born in New York City, the only daughter of Rubens Peale (1784 1865). She studied painting with her uncle Rembrandt Peale (1778 1860) and with Thomas Sully (1783 1872). She enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1856 and nearly a decade later studied in Paris and Rome. Mary Jane Peale made many copies of the works of old masters and of her grandfather, Charles Willson Peale (1741 1827) and Rembrandt Peale, and painted still life subjects. The journals that she kept from about 1847 to 1860 a chronology for her mostly undated works, and document that she read Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), Charles William Day’s The Art of Miniature Painting (1856), and John Ruskin’s Stones of Venice (1851).