Love & Heartache
by Carl G. Karsch
Love, whether in fiction or in life itself, can prove an emotional roller-coaster. It was that and, sadly, much more for Raphaelle Peale and Martha (Patty) McGlathery, his attractive, red-haired bride. He was 20 — she was a year younger — when in 1794, they met and fell in love. If she wasn't "the girl next door," as in the song, Patty certainly was close by. Raphaelle's parents had a large home on the corner of Third and Lombard Sts.; Matthew McGlathery, his wife, also named Martha, and their feisty daughter lived in a modest row home around the corner at 25 George St., a narrow, north-south street between Second and Third Sts. At number 26 George St. lived Matthew's son, James, elected to the Company in 1801.
But closeness was only geographical; the Peale and McGlathery families were from different worlds entirely. Charles Willson Peale's zest for life was matched by his abilities. He outlived three wives, fathered 16 children and founded an artistic dynasty lasting nearly a century. Peale created the country's first museum of natural history and made the city's first use of gas to illuminate it. He received the first patent from the U.S. Patent Office, was a master of painting in oils, watercolor and miniatures. Only Benjamin Franklin was held in greater esteem by Philadelphia. Today, Peale is best remembered for commanding portraits of Revolutionary-era statesmen and soldiers. In the Hall are two Peale portraits: Peyton Randolph, a member of the Virginia delegation to the First Continental Congress and a photographic copy of a portrait of Gunning Bedford, who carried the Company's banner (displayed on the east wall) in the parade celebrating ratification of the Constitution on July 4, 1788. For that parade, Peale also designed the Grand Federal Edifice, a symbolic parade float built by Company member William Williams and his colleagues.
Matthew McGlathery, who contributed to construction of the Hall, was a master builder about whom we know little. A decade after the Hall's completion, the Managing Committee requested him to make a chest for records and other valuables. Specifications were: "three feet 10 inches long, 20 inches wide and 13 inches deep, besides two drawers beneath, five inches deep. A till at the right end and divisions for three bottles at the other end; a good lock and two keys in the upper part and a lock and two keys to each drawer; handles at each end and painted a chocolate color."
By the time Raphaelle and Patty began their courtship, McGlathery may well have been in decline, physically and financially. Two years before his death in 1800, the Managing Committee remitted fines "in future, he being unable to attend as usual in consequence of his inability of body." Later, the Company made quarterly payments of $20 to his widow until her death in 1828.
Raphaelle, named for the most highly regarded artist of that era, was the oldest child of Charles Willson and Rachel Peale. Father and son remained close, even during the dark years to come. Both had a talent for art, music and poetry, plus a penchant for mechanical inventions and a love of entertainment. But Raphaelle, unlike his effervescent father, had mood swings, later exascerbated by excessive drinking. At age 12, he began assisting his father in the museum, located initially in their home. An expanding number of exhibits prompted Peale to move both his family and collection to the recently completed Philosophical Hall, on south 5th St. Later the museum required even larger quarters, the "Long Room" on the second floor of Independence Hall. To obtain exotic specimens of birds and animals, Raphaelle — then 18 — went on a collecting expedition to South America.
Frenetic is the only word to describe his activities beginning in 1794. First, Charles Willson decided to devote himself completely to the prospering museum, and relinquished portrait painting to Raphaelle and Rembrandt, a younger brother. That same year Raphaelle painted Patty's portrait and determined to marry her. Not surprisingly, Charles Willson strongly opposed the match. The following year (1795) the youthful artist made his professional debut at a major exhibition where he showed 13 portraits and still lifes, at which he was particularly adept. Not in the show were portraits of his future in-laws. In 1871, the grandson of James McGlathery, also named James, gave Matthew's portrait to the Company. Portraits of Patty and her mother are in the collection of a McGlathery descendant.
In June, 1796, Raphaelle found time to pen a 32-line ballad which in its closing lines touchingly declared his affection:
"Go speak my heart in part; Go tell her this,
That in herself is concentr'd all my bliss..."
Most of the year he and Rembrandt devoted to copying 60 of their father's best known portraits for exhibition in Charleston and Savannah. Of course, they hoped — and succeeded — in obtaining portrait commissions for themselves. They sailed into Philadelphia not long before Raphaelle's wedding. The Rev. John B. Smith, minister of Third Presbyterian Church at Fourth & Pine Sts., married the couple on May 25, 1797. Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church, its present name, was erected in 1766 by Robert Smith, architect of Carpenters' Hall.
Home for hardly three years, Raphaelle taught himself taxidermy, scraping a sparse living by mounting specimens for the museum. His large portraits never sold well, possibly because he took his motto — "no likeness, no pay" — too literally and failed to flatter clients. Still lifes, at which he excelled, were not in vogue. But miniatures were. With customary passion, Peale mastered the technique of applying watercolors to thin slices of ivory. Early in 1800 he was in Baltimore where he advertised that in a few months he already had painted 72 miniatures as keepsakes.
Peale's best remembered work — "After the Bath" — dates from three years before his death and was intended as a joke on Patty. Shocked that her husband would paint a nude, she tried to unpin the linen napkin shielding the model's modesty. Imagine Patty's surprise when she discovered there was no nude. Pins and napkin were oil paint on canvass.
During his last two decades, Raphaelle journeyed through the South's eastern states seeking commissions and, it is said, to escape Patty's tongue, as sharp as her hair was red. In fairness, his increasingly heavy drinking, which in turn led to illness and loss of income, provided ample cause for rebuke.
Peale's only genuine financial success was with the physiognotrace, a recently invented device for tracing small silhouette profiles on paper. Wherever he traveled — Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia — people flocked to have their profiles made. In less than a year he cut an incredible 86,430 silhouettes and, more importantly, earned his only real wealth. But soon the fad died. Later trips were failures.
Had e-mail been invented, Charles Willson would have been a devotee. Nevertheless, he managed voluminous correspondence with all his children, Raphaelle in particular.
Grandfather Peale brought news of family events. (July, 1803)
"...Patty is up and bravely, would you guess it, in half an hour — no less than twins. Mrs. McGlathery is much with her; you need not fear that anything will be wanting at home..."
Sadly, the twins died. By month's end, Raphaelle was home for the baptism of three children born earlier. Four children were born in later years. The baptism ceremony took place in St. Peter's Episcopal Church, at Third & Pine Sts., less than a city block from the Peale and McGlathery residences. Robert Smith built St. Peter's in 1758.
Patty wrote few letters to her husband, probably since her father-in-law was such an avid correspondent. On the prospects of home ownership (September 1804):
"...You must know how desirable it is to have a place to call your own, and live free of rent, and now is your time when your children are young and least expensive... The house will scarcely be ready to go into before the middle of next month. I tell Patty, the longer she can keep out of it, the better; her feelings must determine whether she can wait for the completion of it..."
Later, the Carpenters' Company would hold the mortgage on the Peale's home at 25 Powell St. (on the north side of what is now Delancey St., just east of Sixth.)
Through the prism of Charles Willson's letters we also glimpse the couple's downward spiral. In February, 1806, he wrote:
"...I haste to let you know that I will not let Patty suffer for want of money while I have it in my power to supply her. I don't know what she wrote, or even wish to be informed; perhaps she is sorry for it, as when I called there, she said she would give anything to recall it... You must not suppose I want any indemnification for what I am able to do for your family . . I wish to be serviceable to my children as far as I can do it..."
His continued generosity became a fact of life on which the Peales would depend.
A year later he recounted Patty's heartache resulting from her husband's travels and drinking.
"...She complained it is hard to live [so much] separated. I justified it from the necessity of the case, and I also gave her some hints how to make home more agreeable to induce those we are connected with to stay with each other. She said we are very happy when he don't drink, and yet she said you could not do without it, for if you passed one day, a tremour came on you and you was miserable until you had it . . My answer is that it was wrong for anyone to drink anything but water..."
Parental advice had the usual effect. None. Crippled at times by gout, Raphaelle continued traveling until 1824, the year before his death. Too ill to leave home, he returned to poetry, writing "lovesick poems — little couplets" for a baker to place in cakes. On March 5, having given the baker his latest efforts, Raphaelle complained of an attack of gout in the stomach. A hot toddy, intended to help, caused him to collapse and die.
Raphaelle is buried in the timeless peace of St. Peter's churchyard, just a few steps from the grave of his father. The son who had the potential to become Charles Willson's peer lies — now peacefully — next to Patty, the house carpenter's daughter, who died in 1852.