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Jeremiah Paul, Jr. came of age as an artist under the aegis of Charles Willson Peale. Paul was a Philadelphia Quaker. Born in Gloucester County, New Jersey, directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Paul was the eldest son of a Woodbury, New Jersey, teacher, Jeremiah Paul, and his wife, Mary Starr Paul. His birthdate, estimated to have been between 1771 and 1776, remains uncertain. The Pauls were members of an extended Quaker clan resident on the New Jersey side of the river. In 1784, the elder Jeremiah Paul moved his family to Philadelphia to take a position as a schoolmaster at the Friends Academy. Founded in 1689 by William Penn, the school stood on Fourth Street near Chestnut, in the heart of old Philadelphia. 

Paul remains a little-known figure in the early history of American art. This painter lives on in a few scattered works and in shards of recollections of his contemporaries and colleagues. In the summer of 1794, Paul executed a series of local landscape sketches along the Schuylkill River and apparently also ventured into nearby New Jersey, painting a view of Philadelphia from the east bank of the Delaware River. Rembrandt Peale offers a tantalizing glimpse into Paul’s training. In 1794, “Jeremiah Paul and myself were the only draughtsmen” in the art school run by Rembrandt’s father, Charles Willson Peale in the family home at Third and Lombard Streets (Rembrandt Peale, “Reminiscences,” The Crayon 1 [May 9, 1855], p. 290). This is to say that Paul and Peale (the similarity between the two surnames, and Paul’s place in the Peale firmament, have caused some subsequent confusion) were the only students to take advantage of Charles Willson Peale’s attempt to found an art academy in Philadelphia in 1794. The project, initiated by Peale, and called The Columbianum, envisioned a permanent institution modeled after the Royal Academy in London, offering both an academy and exhibition venue, controlled by an alliance of working artists, amateurs, and friends of art.  The group that Peale convened to support the project almost immediately fell into disarray, with an anti-Peale faction seceding. Nonetheless, Peale persevered at least to the point of holding the first Columbianum exhibition. Jeremiah Paul was, in fact, a founding member of The Columbianum. He contributed three pictures to the first—and only—exhibit held by the Columbianum exhibit in May 1795 in the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall).

Paul seems to have remained in Philadelphia working as a jack-of-all-trades artist until about 1802. It was during this period that he painted his most ambitious documented works, the present Washington Family, Manumission of Dinah Nevill (about 1795, Milwaukee Art Museum), and Four Children in a Courtyard (1795, Philadelphia Museum of Art). This last, a genre scene, originally thought to incorporate portraits of James Peale’s family, has instead been shown to be a reworking of a widely available English mezzotint.

Paul maintained an ongoing presence in Philadelphia. In 1811, it is reported that he exhibited a large (7 by 9 feet) version of “Venus and Cupid,” a mythological subject that offered the opportunity to paint a female nude. Paul showed three paintings at the annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1811: Portrait of an Artist, and the Shakespeare-inspired Romeo and Juliet and Ferdinand and Miranda (“The Tempest”). In 1813, he showed Death of Julius Caesar, identified as “after B. West,” as well as his Bishop Carroll. In 1819, a year before his death, he sent Holy Family, again identified as “after unnamed artist.” Paul’s death in St. Louis, Missouri, in July 1820 is documented by a newspaper notice. 

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