Archive for the ‘Peale Museum’ Category
In 1930, the Peale Museum was saved from possible demolition. Over a hundred years of varied use had left the Robert Cary Long, Sr. deigned building in disrepair, and the city government was seriously considering its sale. Baltimore residents and journalists rallied to protect one of the first museum buildings erected in the western hemisphere. Eventually the Mayor was convinced and Rembrandt Peale’s Baltimore Museum was targeted for a complete rehabilitation.
Assigned to head the restoration project was local architect John H. Scarff, a partner in the Wyatt and Nolting firm. Scarff studied original drawings and historic photographs of the salon, and restored its original design and floor plan. The portico was rebuilt and a bas-relief sculpture, conceived by R. McGill Mackall and executed by Benjamin Turner Kurtz, was installed above it. In the building’s rear, a courtyard was constructed with pediment from the demolished Union Bank building embedded in its northern wall. The city reopened the museum in 1931.
At the corner of North Holliday Street and East Baltimore Street stands a monument to the first gas street lamp in the United States. Erected in 1997, the lamp is a replica of the early 19th century original. On the evening of June 11, 1816, local businessmen and socialites were invited to Rembrandt Peale’s Museum for a demonstration under the glow of artificial light. During a candlelit period in American history the forward-thinking Peale aimed to form a business around his gas light innovations, the exhibition targeting potential investors.
The gamble worked, and several financiers aligned with Peale, forming The Gas Light Company of Baltimore (the precursor to Baltimore Gas & Electric). Less than a year later, on February 7, 1817, the first public gas street lamp was lit in a ceremony one block south of City Hall. The Gayety Theatre is across the street.
The first piece of gallery sculpture owned by the city of Baltimore was a bust of George Washington by Antonio Capellano. In 1823, Capellano, then living in Charm City, was anxious to obtain the commission for the statue of Washington planned for the Mount Vernon Place Monument. As an example of his work he presented the city with a marble likeness of America’s first president. He subsequently lost the commission to Italian artist Enrico Causici, but the gifted bust was kept and initially displayed in Rembrandt Peale’s Baltimore Museum. The information above and photograph below come from The Story of America’s Oldest Museum Building by Wilbur Harvey Hunter. The sculpture is on display at the Maryland Historical Society.
The City Life Museums was a series of historically significant buildings and exhibits once maintained by the Baltimore municipality. In 1997, Mayor Kurt Schmoke shut them down due to poor attendance and funding issues. The Maryland Historical Society was able to acquire the significant contents of the museums after they were closed.
The MDHS is the big winner in the liquidation of the Baltimore City Life Museums, which was forced to padlock its doors June 21, 1997. It will add to the society’s collection 58 paintings by members of the Rembrandt Peale family, thus becoming the biggest repository of Peale art anywhere. The historical society will also acquire and display in its Mount Vernon buildings the rest of the City Life memorabilia. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the future of various City Life buildings is uncertain.
Independent companies have stepped in to keep some of the historic sites open. Carroll Museums, Inc. is running the Carroll Mansion complex and the Phoenix Shot Tower, offering tours on weekend afternoons for as low as five dollars. However, the Peale Museum and H. L. Mencken House are still closed, two important buildings that deserve being rescued. The Friends of the H. L. Mencken House is working to save the Union Square home that Mencken lived his entire life in. On December 13, 2009 the rowhouse was open as part of the neighborhood’s annual Christmas Cookie Tour.
The Peale Museum’s future is still uncertain. I’ve heard rumors that Baltimore may use the facility as a conference center for City Hall employees, but for now the building is vacant. Opened just months before the Bombardment of Fort McHenry, the Peale Museum is one of the city’s most significant historical artifacts.
The list below comprises the former City Life Museums:
- Baltimore’s Peale Museum
- Phoenix Shot Tower
- Carroll Mansion
- H. L. Mencken House
- Fava Fruit Building or Morton K. Blaustein City Life Exhibition Center
- Brewer’s Park (across from Carroll Mansion)
- Center for Urban Archaeology
- John Hutchinson House (1840s House)
Raphael and Rembrandt Peale, his enterprising sons, had for some years previous stimulated artistic and scientific interest by the opening of the Baltimore Museum where they exhibited “sixty-four portraits of illustrious men distinguished in the Revolution,” as well as “upwards of two hundred preserved birds, beasts, amphibious animals, fishes, and also Indian’s dresses, ornaments, and utensils for civil and military life, etc.” Raphael Peale left Baltimore in 1800, after painting “seventy-two miniatures since his arrival.” Rembrandt on his return from Europe found the interest so great in the stupendous skeleton he had exhibited, which weighed 1,000 pounds and was 31 feet long from tusks to tail (a dinner party having been given in its capacious frame), that he returned to Baltimore and began about 1813 the building from a design by Robert Cary Long on Holliday street near Lexington, which still bears upon its notable facade the faded legend, Baltimore Museum, erected by Rembrandt Peale, 1813-1830.”
The Peale Museum Courtyard contains early 19th century artwork salvaged from razed Baltimore buildings. The largest sculpture comes from the facade of the razed Union Bank building that once stood nearby. The French artist Augustin Chevalier was commissioned to complete the tympanum lunette, a representation of Ceres and Neptune. The bas-relief dates from around 1807, making it one of the oldest pieces of architectural sculpture in America. John Henry Scarff, the Peale Museum’s restoration architect, designed and installed the garden during the 1930 rebuild. Additional pictures:    
The original Peale Museum was founded in Philadelphia by Charles Willson Peale. Charles Willson was a fascinating and gifted man, bouncing between art, politics and science. After a short career in civil service he began painting in earnest, eventually studying under Benjamin West in London. Upon returning to the states, he settled in Annapolis, embarking on a career in portrait art. During this period he traveled to Charles Carroll of Carrollton’s Mount Clare mansion (in Carroll Park, Baltimore) to paint portraits of the Senator and his wife. A few years later Peale moved his family to Philadelphia, a city establishing itself as the artistic capital of America. There he painted the founding fathers and other Revolutionary War heroes, even painting the first ever portrait of George Washington. At his Philadelphia studio he began displaying his work along with the various wildlife he collected (C. W. Peale always maintained a strong interest in science). This location became known as Philadelphia Museum or Peale’s American Museum, one of the first natural history exhibits in America. He turned the operation over to son Rubens in 1810.
When the senior Peale retired, his other son Rembrandt, a famous painter in his own right, decided to start a museum in Baltimore. Opening in 1814, the Peale Museum (sometimes known as Rembrandt Peale’s Museum) consisted of paintings, manufactured pieces and animal specimens. The 3-story building, designed by Robert Cary Long, is crafted in the federal style, its most unique architectural feature being the 2-story gallery attached to the rear of the building. The gallery consists of two open rooms, the top floor lit by skylight, and the ground floor receiving sun through its eleven windows.
Inside the third floor studio, Sarah Miriam Peale fine-tuned her portrait skills under Rembrandt’s Tutelage. Sarah Miriam was the daughter of James Peale, Charles Willson’s brother, and cousin to Rubens and Rembrandt. She became one of the first professional female American artists, earning steady commissions for her portraiture.
The museum as a business never earned Rembrandt financial stability he desired for his family. Being short on initial investment funds, he sold stock in the museum to businessmen, granting them free access and a percentage of ticket sales. This arrangement proved fatal for Rembrandt, the financial burden too much for the artisan. In 1817, he and a group of local entrepreneurs started the Gas Light Company of Baltimore, targeting the city government for a gas street lamp contract. The company eventually succeeded, but not before Rembrandt was forced out due to his financial inadequacies. Younger brother Rubens took the museum over in 1822, but was compelled to close it permanently in 1830. Rembrandt promptly returned to painting as his primary profession.
Through the years the Peale building served as Baltimore’s City Hall (1830 to 1876), a public school, the water board’s headquarters and even an organ factory. In 1930 the building was renovated with John H. Scarff as lead architect. For over 60 years the institution showcased the broad history of Charm City, featuring portraits, photographs, fine art and anything else Baltimore. After closing in 1997, along with the City Life Museums, the salon’s exhibits were moved to the Maryland Historical Society.
Peale Museum reference links:
- The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History (2004)
- Baltimore: its History and its People, Volume 1 (1912)
- Maryland: A Guide to the Old Line State (1948)
- The Amiable Baltimoreans (1984)
- Mr. Peale’s Museum (1980)
- The Chronicles of Baltimore (1874)
- Baltimore Past and Present (1871)
- Rembrandt Peale biography at Butler Art
- National Park Service entry