Copley, John Singleton


Copley, John Singleton
born July 3, 1738, Boston, Mass.
died Sept. 9, 1815, London, Eng.

U.S. painter of portraits and historical subjects.

The stepson of an engraver, he was an accomplished draftsman before age 20 and flourished as a portrait artist in his native Boston. He was famous for his portraits d'apparat, portrayals of his subjects with the objects associated with them in their daily lives or professions. In 1775 he settled in London and turned to the more fashionable history painting; he was elected to the Royal Academy in 1779. He revealed a gift for portraying heroic action in multifigure compositions. He is considered the greatest U.S. painter of the 18th century and the finest artist of the colonial era.

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▪ American painter
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 (Blackburn, Joseph), 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 (Reynolds, Sir Joshua) and by Copley's countryman Benjamin West (West, Benjamin). 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.

Additional Reading
Jules David Prown, John Singleton Copley, 2 vol. (1966); Carrie Rebora et al., John Singleton Copley in America (1994); Emily Ballew Neff and William L. Pressly, John Singleton Copley in England (1995).

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Copley,John Singleton — Cop·ley (kŏpʹlē), John Singleton. 1738 1815. American painter who is known chiefly for his portraits of prominent Americans such as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere, although he lived in England after 1774. * * * …   Universalium

  • Copley, John Singleton — (3 jul. 1738, Boston, Mass., EE.UU.–9 sep. 1815, Londres, Inglaterra). Pintor estadounidense de retratos y personajes históricos. Hijastro de un grabador, antes de los 20 años de edad era un talentoso dibujante y prosperó como artista de retratos …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • COPLEY, JOHN SINGLETON —    portrait and historical painter, born in Boston, U.S.; painted Washington s portrait at the age of eighteen; came to England in 1776, having previously sent over for exhibition sundry of his works; painted portraits of the king and the queen;… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • John Singleton Copley — For the British lawyer and politician of this name, see John Copley, 1st Baron Lyndhurst. John Singleton Copley Portrait of Copley by Gilbert Stuart Birth name John Singleton Copley …   Wikipedia

  • John Singleton Copley — Retrato de Copley por Gilbert Stuart. John Singleton Copley (alrededor del 3 de julio de 1738 9 de septiembre de 1815) fue un artista estadounidense famoso por sus retratos de figuras importantes de la Nueva Inglaterra colonial, en particular… …   Wikipedia Español

  • John Singleton Copley — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Copley. John Singleton Copley Samuel …   Wikipédia en Français

  • John Singleton Copley, 1. Baron Lyndhurst — John Singleton Copley, Baron Lyndhurst (* 21. Mai 1772 in Boston, Massachusetts; † 12. Oktober 1863 in London) war ein englischer Staatsmann. Leben …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • John Singleton Copley — Junge mit Eichhörnchen (Henry Pelham), 1765. Öl auf Leinwand, 76,8 x 63,5 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston John Singleton Copley (* 3. Juli 1738 in Boston; † 9. September 1815 in London) war ein amerikanisch englischer Maler …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • John Singleton Copley — noun American painter who did portraits of Paul Revere and John Hancock before fleeing to England to avoid the American Revolution (1738 1815) • Syn: ↑Copley, ↑John Copley • Instance Hypernyms: ↑painter …   Useful english dictionary

  • LYNDHURST, JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY, BARON —    thrice Lord Chancellor of England, born at Boston, Massachusetts, son of an artist; was brought up in London, educated at Cambridge, and called to the bar in 1804; acquiring fame in the treason trials of the second decade, he entered… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia


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