The Paintings of Paul Peel
The Art History Archive - Canadian Art

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Paul Peel
Biography by Charles Moffat - 2007.

Canadian painter Paul Peel (Born November 7th 1860 in London/Ontario – Died October 3rd 1892 in Paris/France) was the son of a marble-cutter and drawing teacher (John Robert Peel). He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy, Philidelphia (1877-1880 under Thomas Eakins); the R.A. Schools, London (1880); and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris (1881) under Gerome and others.

He returned to London, Ontario, and Toronto for a short time about 1890, but was chiefly active in Paris. He travelled widely in Canada and in Europe, exhibiting as a member of the Ontario Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy. He later returned to Paris where he died in October 1892. Before his death he had achieved a considerable success for his technique in such academic subjects as 'After the Bath' (1890).

His sentimental studies of children, such as The Modest Model (1889) and After the Bath (1890), followed the carefully modelled prescription of the Académie. After the Bath won Peel a medal at the 1890 Salon and displays his skill using light and colour.

He was one of the first Canadian painters to portray nude figures, as in his A Venetian Bather (1889). At the time of his death Peel appeared to be changing his style toward Impressionism. However, he did not live to develop his art beyond its academic sentimentalism. His lung infection was likely induced by overwork and exhaustion. A major retrospective of his work was held in London, Ontario in 1987.

He had two children, a son and then a daughter, who were his models in some of his art.

Many of his works now hang in the Art Gallery of Ontario.

  • The Painter 1880
  • Toll If You Please 1880
  • Devotion 1881
  • Landscape 1882
  • Covent Garden Market, London, Ontario 1883
  • Return of the Flock 1883
  • The Beach at Normandy c.1887
  • The Meadow Lark 1887
  • Judith 1888
  • Mother and Child 1888
  • Mother and Cradle c.1888
  • Mother Love 1888
  • The Arab Chief 1888
  • The Spinner 1888
  • The Young Botanist 1888-1890
  • The Discovery of Moses c.1888-92
  • A Venetian Bather 1889
  • Japanese Dolls and Fan c.1889
  • Nap Time c.1889
  • The Modest Model 1889
  • Portrait of Gloria Roberts 1889
  • After the Bath 1890
  • Bedtime 1890
  • Waiting for the Bath c.1890
  • Robert Andre Peel c.1892
  • Self-Portrait 1892
  • The Little Shepherdess 1892

    Paul Peel
    Biography by David Wistow.

    B. 7 Nov. 1860 in London, Upper Canada, son of John Robert Peel and Amelia Margaret Hall; m. 16 Jan. 1886 Isaure Fanchette Verdier in Willesden (London), England, and they had one son and one daughter; d. 3 Oct. 1892 in Paris.

    In the early 1850s Paul Peel’s parents, both of whom were born in England, settled in London, Upper Canada, where his father quickly prospered as a stone-carver and drawing instructor. The eight Peel children were provided with a supportive and artistic family milieu; Paul and his sister Mildred especially flourished under their father’s tutelage. In 1875 Paul became a pupil of the English-born landscape and portrait painter William Lees Judson, who instructed him in the rudiments of the predominant style of the day, called academic art, and encouraged him to paint outdoors. One of Peel’s works dating from his two years under Judson won a prize at London’s Western Fair in September 1876.

    The following summer Peel was accepted into the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, in Philadelphia, where he studied with Christian Schussele and the more progressive Thomas Eakins. Training consisted not only of drawing from engravings, plaster casts, and the live model, but also included the study of portraiture, still-life, perspective, and anatomy. Eakins instilled in the young artist a desire to explore the visual world intensely and to render it accurately using a new, direct method of painting which involved “drawing” immediately with the brush and coloured pigments. By April 1880 Peel was back home, greatly enriched.

    Three prizes received at the Western Fair of 1880, as well as several sales, reflect the artist’s growing local reputation, although his paintings to this point – primarily genre scenes and landscapes - remained stilted and unresolved. In early October Peel was elected to membership in the Ontario Society of Artists [see John Arthur Fraser], and by the end of the month had departed for Europe, possibly stopping in London where he may have attended classes at the Royal Academy of Arts. Peel spent much of the next dozen years in Paris, attracted by its superior art schools and opportunities for exhibiting. In this regard he typifies the second wave of Canadian artists who studied and worked in France, including William Brymner*, George Agnew Reid*, and Robert Harris*.

    The spring and summer of 1881 were passed at Pont-Aven, Brittany, a village especially favoured by Americans for its picturesque setting and the traditional life-style of its inhabitants. By June, Peel had already sent four paintings on Breton themes to his father, who had them included in the second annual exhibition of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts [see John Douglas Sutherland Campbell*; Lucius Richard O’Brien], held in Halifax, and the Industrial Exhibition, Toronto. That fall Peel settled in Paris near the bohemian quarter of Montparnasse and began working on the first of his many large-scale genre paintings, The spinner. Its carefully planned yet confident verisimilitude marks a significant stage in the artist’s development.

    In April 1882 it was exhibited in Montreal by the RCA; in addition to furthering his reputation at home it was influential in securing his election that month as an associate of the academy. Also in April, in Paris, he began to study under Jean-Léon Gérôme, a leading exponent of the academic style, in his studio located in the École des Beaux-Arts, although contrary to tradition Peel was never officially enrolled at the École. Gérôme, not coincidentally, had taught Eakins, Peel’s teacher in Philadelphia. Peel’s large painting La première notion on the theme of mother and child, was accepted for inclusion in the 1883 Salon of the Société des Artistes Français, a remarkable achievement for a 22-year-old.

    Peel spent the summer and fall of 1883 in London, Ont., where he completed several portraits and landscapes including the accomplished Covent Garden Market, London, Ontario. He exhibited works at the Industrial Exhibition and the Western Fair, winning no fewer than seven first prizes at the latter. On 13 December he and Mildred left for Paris and passed the following summer in Pont-Aven. The presence there of Jules Bastien-Lepage, a proponent of the juste milieu, a compromise between the academic style and Impressionism, encouraged Peel to paint more broadly and with a sunnier palette.

    He also met at Pont-Aven the Danish-born painter Isaure Fanchette Verdier, who became his wife on 16 Jan. 1886. In the spring they visited Isaure’s family in Copenhagen, where the following year Peel’s mother-in-law sold one of his paintings (Two friends, 1886) to Alexandra, Princess of Wales, while she was on a visit to her native city. After a trip to London, England, in May 1886 to view the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, where Peel had seven works displayed, the couple returned to Paris. Their first child, Robert André, was born there on 22 October. Émilie Marguerite was to follow on 15 Nov. 1888.

    Peel exhibited a pastel in each of the Salons of 1887 and 1888 (both works are now lost), and continued his formal training. Beginning in 1887 he spent four years studying with Benjamin Constant, who influenced his awakening interest in exotic, foreign subjects. When Constant was hired in the fall of 1888 to teach at the Académie Julian, Peel followed him there and brought along his new Canadian friend, the recently arrived George Agnew Reid. They found a large, friendly coterie of young artists, including several other Canadians. Peel’s work from 1888 and 1889 demonstrates an assurance and sophistication not previously evident, especially in his painting of a new subject, the nude. His entries in the Salon of 1889, The Venetian bather and The modest model (the latter won an honourable mention) are attractively conceived and competently executed, particularly in the modelling of the human form.

    Works by Peel were also included in Canadian exhibitions held in 1889: the RCA (Ottawa), the Art Association of Montreal, the OSA (Toronto), and the Industrial Exhibition. His growing reputation at home was acknowledged by his election on 26 April 1890 to full membership in the RCA. Peel’s greatest achievement, however, was the third-class medal he received from that year’s Salon for the impressive After the bath. Like several of his works, it evolved from a carefully composed photograph; this practice was recommended by Gérôme but Peel’s use of it has not yet been fully assessed. In part owing to favourable reviews, which were immediately forthcoming, several collectors, among them the actress Sarah Bernhardt, were attracted to this large painting. It finally sold in 1891 to the Hungarian government and today hangs in the Art Gallery of Ontario.

    In July 1890 Peel made a trip home to see his dying mother. He did some oil sketching around southern Ontario and at Quebec in a light-filled Impressionist mode, and organized an exhibition of 32 of his works at London’s Tecumseh House Hotel towards the end of September. More important, he held an auction of 57 works in Toronto in mid October, a sale which realized $2,746. Although contemporaries generally felt that the paintings had sold for less than their true value, scholars continue to disagree about whether this amount constituted an adequate reward for Peel’s efforts, and no comment from the artist himself has survived. In November he left for France.

    The next two years witnessed a further consolidation of Peel’s art and reputation. He spent the summers with his family in Denmark and continued to exhibit at the Salon (La jeunesse in 1891 and Les jumelles in 1892) as well as in Toronto. In late September 1892 he suddenly fell ill in Paris and died on 3 October, possibly of influenza.

    Although Peel left a substantial body of work, he must be seen as a talented painter at the threshold of achieving his full artistic maturity. Despite a certain unevenness often found in the work of young artists, Peel’s creative output made him, in his day, perhaps Canada’s best-known painter in Europe. His frequent displays of technical virtuosity, especially in the depiction of the human body, his adherence to the conservative tenets of the juste milieu, and his fascination with domestic scenes of women and children - always touching, occasionally erotic - perfectly reflect 19th-century European bourgeois values and the artistic concerns of most of his generation. Peel’s considerable popularity in Canada today rests on a few pictures in just such a mode. However sentimental, they continue to strike immediate chords.

  • Chronology of the Life of Paul Peel

    1860 Paul Peel born at London, Ontario, son of John Robert Peel (1830-1904) and Amelia Margaret Hall Peel (1833-1890) on November 7th.

    1870 Received drawing instruction from his father until 1874 and frequents the family firm, London Marble Works, and Frank Cooper’s Photography Studio

    1874 Studied art with William Lees Judson (1842-1928) until 1877.

    1876 Exhibited at the London Western Fair in September as an amateur and won two first prizes.

    1877 Exhibited at Hood’s Art Gallery in April showing five paintings including A Canadian Winter Scene. Traveled and sketched on the Thames River with Judson in July. Departed in October to study in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art under Christian Schussele (1824-1879).

    1878 Continued studies at the Academy under Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) and later in year appointed Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy. Sent work to the first Art Loan exhibition at the new Mechanics Institute at London, Ontario.

    1879 Exhibited original wax model at 50th Annual Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts exhibition.

    1880 Finished at Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Spring. Exhibited at 51st Annual Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts exhibition. Displayed work at Chester’s Art Gallery in London including Toll If You Please. Elected to membership in the Ontario Society of Artists. Showed at Western Fair in the professional category. Departed for Europe in October, spent several months in London, England and audited art classes at the Royal Academy.

    1881 Joined American artists colony at Pont Aven, France. Sent canvases home for the Royal Canadian Academy and four are chosen. Exhibited at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition.

    1882 Married Isaure Verdier (he later had two children with her). Entered the École Nationale des Beaux-arts in Paris, France and studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904). Exhibited for the first time at the Ontario Society of Artists and the Provincial Exhibition at Kingston, Ontario. Continued to show at the Western Fair and the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. Summered at Pont Aven, Brittany.

    1883 Exhibited at the Art Association of Montréal Spring Salon and the Royal Canadian Academy-Ontario Society of Artists shows. Painted in Pont Aven in the Spring. First exhibited at the Paris Salon. Returned to Canada for the Summer and Fall. Continued to exhibit at the Western Fair and the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. Left Canada to return to France in December.

    1884 Lived in Paris with his sister, Mildred Peel. Exhibited Covent Garden Market, London at the Royal Canadian Academy and the Ontario Society of Artists. Summered in Brittany with sister where he meets future wife, Isaure Verdier at Pont Aven. Showed at the Western Fair and the Toronto Industrial Exhibition.

    1885 Exhibited at Art Association of Montréal, combined Royal Canadian Academy-Ontario Society of Artists and the Western Fair. Summered in Brittany with sister and fiancée, Isaure. Spent fall vacation at Étaples, Normandy with fiancée and leaves for London, England.

    1886 Married Isaure Verdier at Willesden, a suburb of London, England on January 16th. Visited Copenhagen, Denmark in the Spring. Exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy and the Danish Royal Academy. Visited in August by father, John Robert Peel, in Paris. First child, Robert André, born on October 22nd.

    1887 Exhibited at Paris Salon. Traveled to Normandy. Studied at the studio of Benjamin Constant (1845-1902). In November, vacation at Étaples, Normandy with family.

    1888 Exhibited at the Paris Salon, Art Association of Montréal and the Royal Canadian Academy. George Agnew Reid and his wife, Mary Heister Reid arrived at Paris and joined with Peel at Constant’s atelier. Later they moved with Constant to the Academie Julian. Traveled on a possible summer trip to Denmark. Second child, Emilie Marguerite, born on November 15th.

    1889 Exhibited at the Art Association of Montréal, Royal Canadian Academy, Ontario Society of Artists and the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. The Modest Model won honourable mention at the Paris Salon. Summered at Pont Aven, Brittany and met fellow Canadian painter, William E. Atkinson (1862-1926). Studied with Jules Lefebvre (1836-1922) and Henri Lucien Doucet (1856-1895) while continuing with Contant at the Academie Julian.

    1890 Spent April in Brittany. Elected full member of the Royal Canadian Academy. After the Bath won third class medal at Paris Salon. Because of his mother’s illness departed for Canada in July. Visited and painted during the Summer at Toronto, Niagara Falls and Québec City. Attended the Canadian Chautauqua (a touring Mechanics Institute program) at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Exhibited works at Tecumseh House at London, Ontario in September. Joined with family at funeral of mother on October 6th. Organized and sold 57 paintings by auction at Oliver, Coate & Company, Toronto. In November, left for France with father, sister and Florence Carlyle (1864-1923).

    1891 In February, the Hungarian Government acquired After the Bath. Exhibited at Paris Salon, the Ontario Society of Artists and the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. Spent Summer in Denmark and possibly visited Spain and Italy. Returned to Paris in late October.

    1892 Exhibited at the Paris Salon and the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. Summered with family in Denmark. Became ill in late September and died on October 3rd at his Paris home.