Sarah Miriam Peale: Meet the First Woman Artist of America

Sarah Miriam Peale was among the most popular artists of America of the 19th century with a mastery at drawing portraits, still life and landscapes.

Sarah Miriam Peale

In the 1800s, America grew substantially, and nearly everything was challenged and changed. For instance, the US bought the Louisiana Territory from France, and from the period 1800 to 60, there were 17 new states in the country. Millions of immigrants made their homes in the country, and the state got divided into two parts- North and South. During the course of these changes, there were differences between the economies, cultures, and problems of these two regions. Despite the hundreds of disadvantageous events that occurred during this time, the most significant event in the history of art and culture was the arrival of America’s first woman artist. Sarah Miriam Peale, the leading portrait painter of Baltimore and St. Louis, was America’s first truly professional woman artist. With a successful career of sixty years, she supported herself and broke all the societal norms against her growth. Today in this article, we are reading about the life and artworks of Sarah, revolutionising America’s female artistic grounds.

Artist Abstract: Who Was Sarah Miriam Peale?

Born in Philadelphia on 19 May 1800, Sarah’s father trained her initially. And in 1819, Sarah attended anatomy classes at the College of Physicians, Philadelphia, with her sister Anna. Sarah lived in Baltimore during 1825-46, taking occasional trips to Washington, DC, to paint public figures. She was a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1824.

NameSarah Miriam Peale
Birth 19 May, 1800
Died4 February, 1885
GenrePortraiture, Still Life
Famous PaintingCharles Lavallen Jessop

Life of the American Artist.

We know much about the family of Peales and even about Female Painting Peales due to their artistic background and the crucial family of America. Before we step into the early career of Sarah, let me tell you that Sarah’s uncle, Charles was the leader of a dynasty of Painting Peales, and he named his sons optimistically after great artists- Raphaelle, Rembrandt, Rubens and Titian Peale and Sophonisba Anguisciola, Angelica Kauffman, Rosalba Carriera, and Sybilla Miriam Peale. And Charles excelled at the topic of gender equality at that time through his mind-blowing lectures. He sponsored his niece Sarah to initiate paintings by taking her to events in Washington DC, where she charmed everyone with her gracious manners and elegance, also making professional contacts in her later life.

Self-Portrait of Sarah Miriam Peale

Coming to her initial life, Sarah’s father was a Philadelphia miniaturist and a still-life painter who gave all his children art lessons equally. At the start, according to historian Charles Coleman Sellers’ reports, we know that after her father left mixed colours in the room, Sarah, meanwhile used to paint a flirtatious-looking, bright-coloured girl with a head full of curls with red draperies. And through these tricks and unconditional love of family, Sarah put herself a good artist.

In 1825, Sarah left Philadelphia city to move to Baltimore, and there, she painted many portraits of wealthy patrons like Mayor John Montogermy, William Josephs and his entire family, and first Brazilian Charge d’Affaires Jose Sylvestre Rabello, etc. Sarah used to have numerous commissions, but it took some effort for her to receive them. Occasionally, Sarah used to move Washington to paint public figures such as the Marquis de Lafayette, Daniel Webster, Abel P. Upshur, Congressman Henry Wise of Virginia and Senator Thomas. Further, the artist moved to St Louis in 1847 on acceptance of the invitation of some Missouri social and political leaders, including Nathaniel Childs, where she spent her next thirty years. We do not know her life during this period, except that she was warmly welcomed by the thriving community and hosted several artists. In 1860, her portrait of Edward William Johnston won the prize of the first premium at the St Louis Agricultural and Mechanical Association’s fair.

However, these portraits for Sarah lasted till 1859, as after this year, she drastically changed her genre to still lifes. And after a few years, she returned to Philadelphia in 1878 and died in 1885, becoming the last member of the second generation of her painting family, Peales.

Now, let me take you to the style of her artwork!

A Brief Look at the Sarah Miriam Peale Paintings.

Talking about the portraits of Sarah, she had firm boundaries with linear lines, minimum shadowing or application of Chiaroscuro. In her paintings, we see fine handling of the details of laces and fabrics with accessories like books, flowers or objects pertinent to the sitter’s position. Her rich colours and glazing-translucent portraits had almost oily skin tones, with the presentation of the sitters pleasant and lively, giving them a naturalistic pose.

In the portraits painted during the 1820s and 30s, Sarah used exemplary still lifes and landscape foregrounds with the subjects elegantly costumed. With elaborative patterns, her male subjects often look cheerful, intelligent and dignified.

Still life with Watermelon by Sarah Miriam Peale

1. Charles Lavallen Jessop.

In her painting, Charles Lavallen Jessop, Sarah showed the subject charmingly through bright eyes and an innocent smile. The brushstrokes are warm and smooth with utmost contrast. The painting almost looks like a fairy tale or dream. There is an application of low chiaroscuro on the canvas. It portrays half of the subject in complete darkness and the other half in a slightly lighter background. With illuminating facial features and colour tones, the subject portrays cheerfulness. The artist handled the plication of clothes of Charles with a fine touch, not to mention how she managed the epic brushstrokes for the soft hair, horse mane, and eyebrows. 

Charles Lavallen Jessop Sarah Miriam Peale paintings

2. Charlotte Ramsay Robinson.

Charlotte Ramsay Robinson showcases the wedding portrait of Sarah’s cousin, with sparkling eyes, lucid curls of hair, a detailed dress and an innocently happy smile. The use of rich textures and intelligible drapery is one of the significant characteristics of this painting. Furthermore, the background of the artwork remains somewhat similar to the previous one, encouraging the minimum shadowing of low chiaroscuro, setting the subject in contrasting light. The soft brushes over the facial features and the fuzzy fur of the drapery make the portrait optimum and inviting. 

Charlotte Ramsay Robinson by Sarah Miriam Peale

3. The Veil of Mystery.

In The Veil of Mystery, there is a use of a transparent veil covering the face of the subject and an extraordinary lace work on it. The expression looks completely naturalistic as if the woman holds her position in a coincidence. Its subject matter gives the viewer a sense of calm and cheerfulness without being mysterious. Her hair is beautifully decorated with flowers behind one ear, giving the appearance of a complete bridal look to the viewer.

Sarah Miriam Peale artworks Veil of Mystery

4. Cherries.

In one of her still lifes, Cherries, Sarah showed a stylistic form with a loose hand painting influenced by the American Pre-Raphaelites. As can be seen from the artwork, Sarah Miriam Peale composed the piece after seeing the cherries growing outside rather than collecting them artificially. The painting is a signature-style work, Sarah. Charles Wilson Peale in 1818, wrote about her,

“Sally also possesses great talents, her first and second attempts in Portrait are now exhibiting in the Academy of the Fine Arts.”

Cherries by Sarah Miriam Peale

Final Words.

Sarah Miriam Peale was one of the leading artists in America, who was successful in holding her position as a brilliant artist throughout her lifetime. She did not get married just for her career, as people would often call her “married to her art“. Sarah is a modern-day inspiration for all of us, regardless of gender to achieve brilliance and patience in our works.


1. American women artists: from early Indian times to the present by Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer.

2. Dictionary of Women Artists.

3. National Museum of Women in the Arts.

4. Sarah M. Peale: America’s first woman artist by King, Joan.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Who was Sarah Miriam Peale?

Sarah Miriam Peale was one of the First Professional Female painters in the U.S and a brilliant inspiration to all the women artists after her. Moreover, Sarah’s artwork, Still-Life with Water-Melons, was sold at Christie’s New York at a record-breaking $277,200, which marked her presence in the art world again.

What are the characteristics of Sarah’s art?

The characteristics of Sarah’s art include boundaries with linear lines, minimum shadowing in the background and fine handling of the laces and fabrics. In addition, Sarah does not forget to use rich colours for a naturalistic appeal.

Which painting of Sarah Miriam is famous?

One of the famous paintings by Sarah Miriam remains Charles Lavallen Jessop, which displays a prince with a horse in an extremely beautiful and realistic way. In addition, one of the artist’s still life scenes featuring watermelons, consequently sold for a whopping $277,200, made headlines as well.

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