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December 2005

Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860)

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005;159(12):1100. doi:10.1001/archpedi.159.12.1100

Parents communicate their aspirations for their children in various ways. Charles Willson Peale was not subtle; he named 6 of his 17 children Raphaelle, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, Angelica Kauffmann, and Sophonisba Angusciola. The strategy worked. Three of them grew up to be professional artists, including Rembrandt Peale, who painted this affectionate portrait of his 17-year-old brother Rubens when the artist was 23.

Rubens Peale, however, was cursed with bad eyesight and frail health as a young boy. Barely able to see the letters in books, he struggled in school and at drawing. Encouragement to persist in his efforts came from no less a source than Benjamin Franklin, a visitor to the Peale household, but Rubens came to realize that his natural gifts lay elsewhere. As early as age 10, he showed unusual talent at growing plants and raising birds. The portrait shows him gently probing the soil around a rare variety of geranium with 2 fingers of his right hand, a keen sense of touch helping to compensate for his poor vision.

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