Although Rubens Peale, the fourth son of Charles Willson Peale, was born into a family of artists, he did not begin painting until the last ten years of his life. Because of deficient eyesight, he had not learned to paint with his siblings but had instead devoted his life to directing museums, including his father's, and then had retired to a farm. His interest in horticulture was recorded in an early portrait, "Rubens Peale with a Geranium" by his brother Rembrandt (1801, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) When he took up the brush at age seventy-one, his botanical interests led him to concentrate on "fruit pieces." Lacking a formal artistic education, Peale learned to compose pictures by making copies of other artists' canvases, especially those by his uncle James and brother Raphaelle. "Basket of Fruit,"an original conception, nevertheless shows the influence of Raphaelle Peale in its austerity.
With Neoclassical restraint, Peale arranged the basket on a shiny table against a plain background. He depicted the strongly-illuminated fruit with botanical accuracy, capturing the white bloom on the grapes and the variegated coloring of the apples. Peale mitigated the static quality of his composition by situating the basket with its slightly tilted handle to the left of center and balancing it with the apple on the table. "Basket of Fruit" is recorded in Peale's painter's register: "49. Fruit. Basket of apples with grapes, "for my niece Anna Sellers." Com[menced] Oct. 22, 1860. Varnished Dec. 19, 1860." After giving the painting to his niece, the seventy-six year old artist wrote in his journal, "I got a letter this evening from Anna Sellers thanking me for the Christmas present of the fruit piece which I painted for her, her brothers are all pleased with it. They are surprised that I could paint so good a picture at my time of life."