Charles Willson Peale was a sensitive little man with a long, thin nose, wide and bright blue eyes, an imposing store of energy. One of the few artists to fight in the American Revolution, he painted dozens of its heroes—four in the portraits opposite. He also inspired a whole family of artists, who will be honored next week with a comprehensive exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Star of the show will be gentle Charles himself, yet painting was only one of his talents.

Two hundred and one years ago, when Peale was twelve, his indigent mother apprenticed him to an Annapolis...

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