A son of the eminent Revolutionary-era portraitist
, Rubens Peale was cursed with poor eyesight, which led his father to groom him for museum management rather than painting. Rubens’s brothers,
, were trained as artists early on, but the bespectacled Peale sibling was a late bloomer, receiving painting instruction instead from his daughter, Mary Jane, when he was 71 years old.
Mary Jane was one of the last painters of the Peale artistic dynasty, and produced mostly portraits and still lifes. She became interested in pursuing art as a teenager, and by her 25th birthday, she decided to become an artist in earnest, writing in her diary that “this day I have made up my mind to furnish a room & commence painting professionally [to] begin life for myself.”
When Rubens retired to a country home after a career spent managing branches of the Peale Museum in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York, his daughter helped him explore his lifelong interest in natural history through painting what were mostly botanical still lifes.