Washington: Rembrandt's Rich Rubens

Rembrandt's Rich Rubens

Charles Willson Peale named some of his children after artists and others after scientists. Taking his name very seriously, Rembrandt Peale grew up to be one of America's important early painters. Last week he also became the priciest. The National Gallery of Art paid $4.07 million for his Rubens Peale with a Geranium, an intimate portrait of his horticulturist younger brother. The previous record for an American work of art at auction: $2.75 million for Frederic Edwin Church's Icebergs.

Painted in 1801, Rubens set a standard for the informal portraiture that became an American trademark. Peale family lore has it that...

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