Looking at Paul Peel’s Playful and Relaxing Paintings

Paul Peel died when he was just 31. But by that time, he had become one of the very first Canadian artists to achieve international recognition. His beautifully playful and relaxing paintings reflect the wonderful family man that he was.

From tradition to revolution

Paul Peel (7th November 1860 – 3rd October 1892) was born into a family of high artistic values. His father was a drawing instructor. Therefore, an inclination towards art had implanted naturally into young Paul’s mind. Under his father’s tutelage, he inculcated the basics of drawing. But in his teens, he would learn two very different approaches to painting.

At 15, Paul Peel became a student of William Lees Judson. Judson was a follower of the traditional academic form of landscape painting. The academic approach required expressive colors and sharp contrasts, which often produced dramatic results. Peel learned this technique for two years. But in 1877, he encountered Thomas Eakins in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Eakins endorsed the Barbizon School of arts. In sharp contrast to the academic style, the Barbizon approach was simple with mild colors that specifically aimed towards a realistic interpretation of the subject. When it first emerged in the mid 19th century, the style conflicted with the traditional approach. But still, it garnered high popularity and paved way for impressionism.

Paul Peel’s first truly recognized work, Devotion, showcases such a realistic representation of the effects of light in an internal setting.

Devotion, Paul Peel, 1881

In that same year, he created another work of higher significance. This was The Spinner. The work’s subject presents a sense of bliss and relaxation realized within the pleasures of mundane daily life. This theme would characterize most of Peel’s following works.

The Spinner, Paul Peel, 1881

His best works came subsequently in his late 20s when he discovered his personal taste regarding subjects.

A Real family man

With time, Peel’s setting became more domestic and his subjects often were his own family members. Warm domestic scenes and expressive figures combine to evoke the serenity of ordinary regular life. An example of this is Repose. It is a simple work showing a woman who is asleep. But her expressive figure suggests as if she is moving. Her loose dress evokes a sense of vulnerability with which the viewer can easily empathize. This empathy might have emerged from the artist’s choice of using his family members, like his mother, sister, and later on wife and children, as subjects.

Repose, Paul Peel, 1890

Consequently, essential familial relationships often formed his central subjects. Examples of such are Mother and Child and Bedtime. Peel’s interpretation of women was highly rich and multi-dimensional. His female subjects range from mothers and daughters to refined ladies and also sensual nudes. An example of the latter is The Little Shepherdess. Peel’s inclination towards expressive human postures is clear here. As in previous occasions, he interprets the effects of light on nature realistically and simply here as well.

Bedtime, Paul Peel, 1890
The Little Shepherdess, Paul Peel, 1892

playful and relaxing paintings

But Peel’s works of children give the viewer the greatest pleasure. Such wonderfully playful and relaxing paintings present children, often his own, either posing or performing activities of daily life. An example of the latter, giving the viewer utmost joy, is Before the Bath. Like his previous works, a warm domestic setting and expressive figures are essential traits of this painting as well. The children featured in this work are his own, which further heightens its significance. Their postures make the scene come alive, introducing acute humor that many children and parents can relate easily to. All children around the world have such a person in their lives who forces them to do the tough task of having a bath. Nuanced strokes play a crucial role to evoke the woman’s face, which further adds to the joy of the scene.

Before the Bath, Paul Peel, 1890

Works like The Young Botanist and The Young Biologist further reflect the humourous side of Peel. Their titles represent the amusement Peel must have felt while observing these young and innocent subjects. The children in the works are simply looking at flowers and animals. Peel respects their power of concentration. The figures are characteristically expressive which enables the scene to feel alive even though they are almost doing absolutely nothing. Peel’s representation of light and shades is faithful to the realities of the scene. The Barbizon simplicity was finely in line with his simple daily settings.

The Young Botanist, Paul Peel, 1890

The simple playfulness of each of these works reflects his own simplicity and love for those around him.


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