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Charles Willson Peale, best known as a late-eighteenth-century portrait painter, was also the creator of the first American museum, an encyclopedic institution devoted to cultural and natural history. Founded in Philadelphia, Peale's museum included an extensive portrait gallery and specimens from the animal, vegetable, and mineral worlds, all arranged according to a taxonomic structure. Humans, of course, dominated this hierarchical structure, and accordingly portraits were hung high up on the wall, as can be seen in Peale's life-sized self-portrait, The Artist in His Museum. In this work, Peale depicts himself as the epitome of the gentleman connoisseur, holding back a velvet curtain to reveal his prized collection.
The Artist in His Museum  
Charles Willson Peale.
The Artist in His Museum. 1822.

Oil on canvas, 8' 7 3/4" x 6' 7 7/8" (263.5 x 202.8 cm). Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Gift of Mrs. Sarah Harrison (The Joseph Harrison, Jr. Collection). Photo: courtesy Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

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