by John Singleton Copley
John Singleton Copley is considered to be the foremost
artist of colonial America. He is also one of its most prolific.
Copley was born on July 3, 1738, in Boston, and
was trained by his stepfather, a mezzotint engraver. Copley's early work shows
the influence of the Boston painter John Smibert and of English rococo portraitists.
From the latter he learned the device of the portrait d'apparat, in which artifacts
used by the subject are included in the portrait, as in Paul Revere, an
intense likeness of the patriot~silversmith holding one of his silver teapots.
By 1760 Copley's distinctive style had crystallized,
characterized by meticulous technique, clear verisimilitude, and a vivid, balanced
palette. His sitters included famous politicians (John
Hancock, 1765) and
wealthy New Englanders (Mrs. Sylvanus Bourne, 1766).
Well aware of his outstanding gifts, Copley sent
his painting The Boy with a Squirrel to London,
where it was exhibited. Impressed by the painting, the English portraitist Sir
Joshua Reynolds and the expatriate American painter Benjamin West urged Copley
to immigrate to Europe. In 1774 Copley followed their advice, touring Italy and
then settling in London in 1775.
He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy
in the following year and a full member in 1779, the same year he exhibited his
protoromantic Watson and the Shark (1778),
a virtuoso rendering of an actual incident in Havana Harbor. Under West's influence,
Copley turned to history painting, with such splendid large canvases as The
Death of the Earl of Chatham (1780), a dramatically composed version of a
Copley died on September 9, 1815, in London.