Born in Philadelphia in 1774, Raphaelle Peale was the eldest surviving son of Charles Willson Peale, the patriarch of the great Pennsylvania family that included some of the most celebrated American artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As has often been noted, the Peale family shared a special predilection for illusionistic deception and artifice in their painting. Only two members of the family took up still-life painting in earnest, Raphaelle and James Peale, and under their auspices Philadelphia became the center of still-life painting in the early 19th century.
Although younger than his uncle James, Raphaelle is regarded as the earliest professional American still-life painter. His training began early as he accompanied his father on painting trips, and helped him to gather specimens for the natural history museum Charles Wilson had opened in Philadelphia. He also aided his father inside the museum, painting backgrounds for exhibits, meticulously reproducing dioramas for the various specimens of the museum. By the time he reached his twenties, Raphaelle's early interest in portraying the minute details of the museum's flora and fauna had found new expression in his still life painting. He began to exhibit these works at the Columbian Exhibition of 1795, but tried to make his living in the more respected area of portraiture like his younger, more successful brother Rembrandt. By 1810, however, unable to support himself through his portraits, Raphaelle became financially dependent on his father.
Records show that in 1813, Raphaelle exhibited a large number of still-lifes for the first time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Observing his son was especially gifted in this area, Charles encouraged him, although he still hoped Raphaelle would develop in the more prestigious realm of portrait painting. In 1817 he wrote: "If you applied yourself as you ought to do, you would be the first painter in America. Your pictures of still life are acknowledged to be, even by the painters here, far exceeding all other works of that kind - and you have often heard me say that, which such talents of exact imitation, your portraits ought to be more excellent."
While Raphaelle's depictions of fruit appear to have been the most prevalent, he also painted other types of food as well as crockery and tableware. Currants and Biscuits is similar to several works he painted in 1813, and according to Phoebe Lloyd, the raisin cakes which Peale painted "[were] no ordinary cake[s] but composition cakes like the ones sold in the shop of Mrs. Elizabeth Goodfellow, just down Sixth Street from the corner house on Powell (now Delauncey) where Raphaelle lived with his family." Peale often used expensive delicacies, such as the cakes, as well as fine china, glassware, and cuttings from his family garden as his subjects, and his works have become historical documents of the culinary and horticultural accomplishments of early nineteenth century Philadelphia.
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