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  John Singleton Copley

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John Singleton Copley
 
 

Self-Portrait
1784
Oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington
 
 
John Singleton Copley, (born July 3, 1738, Boston, Massachusetts [U.S.]—died September 9, 1815, London, England), American painter of portraits and historical subjects, generally acclaimed as the finest artist of colonial America.

Little is known of Copley’s boyhood. He gained familiarity with graphic art from his stepfather, the limner and engraver Peter Pelham, and developed an early sense of vocation: before he was 20 he was already an accomplished draughtsman. Copley soon discovered that his skills were most pronounced in the genre of portraiture. In his portraits, he revealed an intimate knowledge of his New England subjects and milieu and conveyed a powerful sense of physical entity and directness. Influenced by a Rococo portrait style derived from Joseph Blackburn, Copley made eloquent use of the portrait d’apparat—a Rococo device of portraying the subject with the objects associated with him in his daily life—that gave his work a liveliness and acuity not usually associated with 18th-century American painting. This device allowed Copley to insert English references into his portraits, thereby reinforcing the Anglophilia desired by many of his patrons.

Although he was steadily employed with commissions from the Boston bourgeoisie, Copley wanted to test himself against the standards of Europe. In 1766, therefore, he exhibited Boy with a Squirrel at the Society of Artists in London. It was highly praised both by Sir Joshua Reynolds and by Copley’s countryman Benjamin West. Copley married in 1769. Although he was urged by fellow artists who were familiar with his work to study in Europe, he did not venture out of Boston except for a seven-month stay in New York City (June 1771–January 1772). When political and economic conditions in Boston began to deteriorate (Copley’s father-in-law was the merchant to whom the tea that provoked the Boston Tea Party was consigned), Copley left the country in June 1774, never to return. In 1775 his wife, children, and several other family members arrived in London, and Copley established a home there in 1776.

His ambitions in Europe went beyond portraiture; he was eager to make a success in the more highly regarded sphere of historical painting. In his first important work in this genre, Watson and the Shark (1778), Copley used what was to become one of the great themes of 19th-century Romantic art: the struggle of man against nature. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1779. His English paintings grew more academically sophisticated and self-conscious, but in general they lacked the extraordinary vitality and penetrating realism of his Boston portraits. Although his physical and mental health were in decline in his later years, he continued to paint with considerable success until the last few months of his life.

Encyclopædia Britannica

 
 
 


Mary MacIntosh Royall and Elizabeth Royall
1758
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



The Copley Family
c. 1776
Oil on canvas, 184,4 x 229,7 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington


 


Paul Revere
1768-70
Oil on canvas, 87,5 x 71,5 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



Mrs John Winthrop
1773
Oil on canvas, 90,2 x 73 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 



Charles Pelham
1753



The Return of Neptune
1754
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York



Theodore Atkinson
1757
oil on canvas
Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence


 


Epes Sargent
1761
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.



Mrs. Samuel Quincy (Hannah Hill)
1761
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



Mrs. Nathaniel Allen (Sarah Sargent)
1763
oil on canvas
Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Mrs. Benjamin Pickman (Mary Toppan)
1763
oil on canvas
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT.



Mrs. Daniel Sargent (Mary Turner)
1763
oil on canvas
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco



Nathaniel Sparhawk
1764
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 
 
 
 


Self-Portrait
1769
Winterthur Museum, Delaware





Henry Pelham (Boy with a Squirrel)
1765
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston




John Hancock
1765
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston




Mrs. Thomas Boylston (Sarah Morecock)
1765
oil on canvas
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge




Nicholas Boylston
1767
oil on canvas
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge



Young Lady with a Bird and Dog
1767
oil on canvas
The Toledo Museum of Art



 


The Death of Major Pierson on the 6th of January of 1781


 


The Three Youngest Daughters of George III
1785
The Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II



Sir William Pepperrell and His Family
1778
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

 
 
 

 
 
 
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