Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The pelargonium & the brothers Peale...


The National Gallery of Art
Rubens Peale with a Geranium, Rembrandt Peale, 1801

Rembrandt Peale was the third son of the portrait painter Charles Willson Peale & brother to Raphaelle. (There were seventeen children in all, not to mention three marriages, but only six survived to adulthood. Raphaelle was the fifth but eldest surviving son & I believe all the children, at least from his first marriage, were named after artists. While Charles trained all his children to be painters, not all followed directly in their father's footsteps.) This is a painting by Rembrandt of his brother Rubens (a naturalist & painter who primarily managed the family museums) with what is said to be one of the first geraniums grown from seed in the New World. I have no hard facts on this so let's just say that in early nineteenth century America, it was still a rare & exotic plant.

The geranium here is technically a pelargonium from South Africa & a bit less showy than the plants we are accustom to today ~ I assume we have the Victorians to thank for that. The first seeds were probably brought from South Africa to the Netherlands around 1600 where they first appeared in the botanical garden at the University of Leiden. (Coincidentally the home of our Vanitas painter David Bailly.) In 1631, the English horticulturist, John Tradescant the elder, introduced the seeds to England. From there the plant crossed the Atlantic to end up in Rubens' flower pot & eventually in Rembrandt's painting. I suppose this could be considered a double portrait; the handsome young naturalist, gently caressing the stem of his exotic pelargonium while the plant reciprocates by brushing his forehead with a leaf.

Almost like lovers... 

2 comments:

Ellen said...

Thanks for featuring one of my favorite paintings

MW said...

Ellen: My pleasure! It's one of mine as well.