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 withgraphic artfrom his stepfather, the limner and engraverPeter 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 thegenreof portraiture. In his portraits, he revealed anintimateknowledge of hisNew Englandsubjects andmilieuand conveyed a powerful sense of physical entity and directness. Influenced by a Rococo portrait style derived fromJoseph Blackburn, Copley madeeloquentuse of theportrait 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 andacuitynot usually associated with 18th-century Americanpainting. This device allowed Copley to insert English references into his portraits, thereby reinforcing the Anglophilia desired by many of his patrons. Encyclopedia Brittannica
Portrait of the Copley Family
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 inNew 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 theBoston Tea Partywas 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. He continued to paint with considerable success until the end of his life.
A new book, "A Revolution In Color: The World Of John Singleton Copley," tells his story andHere & Now's Alex Ashlock spoke with the author, Harvard University historianJane Kamensky.
"A cautious man in a rash age, John Singleton Copley feared the onrush of the colonial rebellion against Great Britain. Like many people of his place and time, he called the rebels’ revolution a civil war. And like many people who had lived through civil wars before him, and who have endured them since, he thought the safest side was no side at all...."