Oil on panel. 121.6 x 98.11 cm • 47 7/8 x 38 5/8 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.
General Henry Knox, c. 1805
Charles Willson Peale, despite his devotion to the taxonomic and contemplative majesty of the natural world, nevertheless loved novelties and used all sorts of amusements to attract customers to his museum. He eventually resorted to hiring a popular musical performer who played five different instruments simultaneously, using all parts of his body. Following Peale’s death the museum passed into the enterprising hands of P. T. Barnum, becoming part of his traveling circus — a romantic ending for an Enlightenment institution.