John Singleton Copley

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    John Singleton Copley: An American Painter


    John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) was an American painter born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was famous for his portraits of crucial personalities from colonial New England, particularly depicting bourgeois subjects. They were innovative in their tendency to display artifacts related to these people's lives. 

    There is little definitive information about Copley's childhood, making it difficult to track his early artistic development. Pelham likely taught Copley both painting and printmaking, but Copley was mainly self-taught despite early exposure to art. 

    The career of John Singleton Copley:

    Copley's artistic career began in 1751 at the age of thirteen when he settled as a painter and print-maker after the death of his stepfather to supplement the income from his mother's tobacco shop. There he painted portraits of Bostonians and British officials. But these early works, though impressive to a child his age, betrayed Copley's inexperience by the occasional crude or ineptly rendered detail. 

    Paintings of John Singleton Copley:

    The American artist John Singleton Copley is one of the most famous colonial painters, known for portraits of important personalities like Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams, and dramatic scenes like Watson and the shark from the national gallery (1778). Copley spent his early career in Boston, painting meticulous and precise works that echo the usual conventions of colonial painting. 

    In Boston, after the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, Copley was particularly affected by increasing political unrest. His father-in-law had been one of the traders supposed to receive the tea thrown at the port. 

    With the desire for the appreciation and seriousness of European art practice, this unease prompted him to leave for London in June 1774. On September 30, 1762, he wrote to the Swiss painter Jean Etienne Leotard and asked her for "a set of the best Swiss colored pencils for drawing portraits." 

    The young American anticipated the jerseys' surprise that "such a remote corner of the world as New England had some demand for the paraphernalia necessary for the practice of the fine arts," and assured him that "America, which is the seat of war and devastation, I hope one day it will become the School of Fine Arts." 

    Abroad, Copley experimented with history painting and adopted a looser and wider brushwork that reflected British styles. Although this self-portrait cannot be accurately dated, it is believed that Copley painted it after arriving in London. 

    Scholars suggest that Copley created it with the help of two mirrors that allow him to study himself from that particular angle without constantly going back and forth from mirror to canvas. 


    Copley was the most significant painter in colonial America and created about 350 works of art. With his distinctive depictions of people and things, he defined a realistic artistic tradition in America. 

    Considered the greatest American painter of the 18th century, he was also one of the pioneers of a private exhibition, orchestration of shows, and commercialization of engravings of his works to a mass audience. 

    His visible legacy spanned the nineteenth century in American tastes for artists as various as Fitz Henry Lane and William Harnett. While continuing to color portraits for the elite in Britain, his incredible success was growing contemporary artists who painted history, a combination of reportage, idealism, and theatre. 

    His English artwork grew greater academically state-of-the-art and self-conscious, but in standard, they lacked extraordinary energy and penetrating realism of his Boston portraits. Although his physical and intellectual fitness deteriorated later, he painted with considerable success into the last months of his life.

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