This Week in History


A Great Canadian Artist

For the week of Monday November 3, 2008

On November 7, 1860, Paul Peel was born in London, Upper Canada (now Ontario). Considered one of the most renowned Canadian painters in Europe at the end of the 19th century, he is celebrated for his considerable artistic talent, and his work continues to be very popular even today.

Paul Peel (Canadian, 1860-92), The Young Botanist, 1888-90, Oil on canvas, 115.0 x 91.4 cm
© Collection of Museum London, Purchased with the assistance of the Richard & Jean Ivey Fund, London, Ontario, 1987 (87.A.203)
Peel began his artistic training at a young age with his father, a marble cutter and drawing teacher. In 1875, he studied painting under the instruction of William Lees Judson. From 1877 to 1879 he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. After finishing his studies, Peel became a member of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1880. He also studied at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, England, that same year. Two years later, he moved to Paris, to study under Jean Léon Gérôme at Gérôme's studio at the École des Beaux-Arts. Then, beginning in 1887, he studied for four years under Benjamin Constant at the Académie Julian.

Although Peel spent most of his adult life in Paris, he maintained ties with Canada. As a member of the Ontario Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy, he displayed his work at many Canadian exhibitions. He also participated in international exhibitions, such as the Paris Salon, where he won the third-class medal in 1890 for After the Bath, which he had painted that year. Peel won several prizes for his paintings, but this was the most prestigious award he received throughout his career. 

Paul Peel (Canadian, 1860-92), The Wreck, 1884, Oil on canvas, 144.0 x 93.4 cm
© Collection of Museum London, Gift of Mrs. Richard Bland, London, Ontario, 1933 (33.A.01)

Peel painted in the academic style. He usually painted portraits and worked mostly with oils. He was one of the first Canadian artists to paint nude subjects. Toward the end of his life, Peel began to change his style from academic art to Impressionism. However, he did not have the chance to develop his new style when he suddenly fell ill with a lung infection toward the end of September 1892.

Paul Peel died in Paris on October 3, 1892. He is believed to have died of influenza brought on by fatigue from the long hours he devoted to his work. A major retrospective of his work was held in London, Ontario, in 1987. Paul Peel was designated a National Historic Person of Canada in 1937.

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