London’s own Paul Peel, will forever remain in our hearts, memories, and estate sales.

If you have a grandmother…

Or have spent time with any older folk, chances are you have come across the widely reproduced portraits by famous Canadian Impressionist painter, Paul Peel.

You’ve seen his work in thrift stores, lobbies, and grandparents’ houses everywhere. There is no way that anyone hasn’t seen the work of Paul Peel, even though you may not know when.

In setting out to explain why Paul Peel remains so a-peeling to this group, I spoke to my own grandmother, the wonderful Evelyn, posing below with her very own Peel.

The Background

Paul Peel is a native Londoner, born here on November 7, 1860 to the city’s prominent stone-carver, John Robert Peel. John acted as Paul’s very first art teacher until the age of 14. It is rumoured that Paul took art classes at the bottom floor of the Duffield Block (Dundas & Clarence) during his early years in London.

Evelyn and Paul Peel paintings
My beautiful grandmother, Evelyn, posing with her favourite Peel works. Photo by Emma Marr

In 1876, Paul exhibited at London’s Western Fair in September, winning several awards as an amateur artist at the age of 16. He continued to exhibit at the fair in his later years.

As the story often goes for local artists, London lost Peel to the alluring art communities of larger cities. He spent years studying in the prestigious art institutes of Paris as a part of the second wave of Canadian artist expats who studied and worked in France.

While in Europe, he exhibited in salons throughout the continent, even selling a piece to Alexandra, Princess of Wales.

Peel, Paul, The Covent Garden Market, London, Ontario 1883, 69.A.46
“Covent Garden Market London Ontario,” 1883 by Paul Peel. Photo via Museum London/VisibleStorage.ca

London’s pastel-hued hero, returned home on several occasions during his short life, leaving behind landscape paintings and sketches of London, giving us modern Londoners a colourful look into the past life of the Forest City.

The Little Shepherdess - Paul Peel
“The Little Shepherdess”, 1892 by Paul Peel. Photo via AGO Collections.

In death…

As the turn of fates goes for prolific creatives, Paul Peel passed tragically at the young age of 31 from a lung infection while working in France and was buried in Paris.

Both of Paul’s parents lay rest in London’s Woodland Cemetery. Paul’s name is etched into his parent’s gravestone, even though Paul was buried in Paris.

Paul’s success may have coined him, in his day, Canada’s best-known painter in Europe. Along with many awards and achievements, Paul was also one of the first Canadian painters to portray nude figures in his paintings, an element that was infamous to his name.

Why Paul?

I wanted to know why Paul Peel decorated so much of my grandma’s house. What exactly made the past generation love his work so much? I asked my grandmother, what the deal was and where her love of Paul Peel came from:

I liked Paul Peel because he was a Canadian Artist first of all. Secondly his work was affordable when l first got into picking out art and having it framed. Thirdly, he depicted children in the sweetest way.

“That just caught my eye.”

There you have it folks, we have uncovered the allure of Paul Peel. Now, when you’re perusing the aisles of your favourite local thrift shop or summertime yard sale, you’ll have a deeper appreciation and a wealth of knowledge at hand when you inevitably come across one of his hallowed prints.

If you, your grandparent, or friendly neighbour have any of his prints, please send us a picture! Maybe we can create our very own #PaulPeelAppreciationGallery.


Feature photo “The Beach at Normandy,” 1887 by Paul Peel. Photo via artshistoryarchive.com.

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