John Passmore the Younger (active 1831—45)

by John Passmore the Younger (active 1831—45)

Oil on canvas; 29 1/2 x 24 3/4 in. (75 x 62.9 cm). Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT.

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.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)