John Singleton Copley

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Copley, John Singleton

(kŏp`lē), 1738–1815, American portrait painter, b. Boston. Copley is considered the greatest of the American old masters. He studied with his stepfather, Peter PelhamPelham, Peter
, c.1695–1751, American engraver and painter, b. England; stepfather of John Singleton Copley. After studying and practicing in England, Pelham settled (c.1728) in Boston. He produced engravings of Cotton Mather and Increase Mather based on his own paintings.
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, and undoubtedly frequented the studios of SmibertSmibert or Smybert, John
, 1688–1751, American portrait painter, b. Scotland, the first skillful painter in New England. After his apprenticeship to an Edinburgh house painter, he went to London.
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 and FekeFeke, Robert
, c.1705–c.1750, early American portrait painter, b. Oyster Bay, N.Y. He practiced in Newport, R.I., New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston. He probably studied in Europe for a time, but soon developed a very personal painting style.
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. At 20 he was already a successful portrait painter with a mature style remarkable for its brilliance, clarity, and forthright characterization. In 1766 his Boy with the Squirrel was exhibited in London and won the admiration of Benjamin WestWest, Benjamin,
1738–1820, American historical painter who worked in England. He was born in Springfield, Pa., in a house that is now a memorial museum at Swarthmore College.
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, who urged him to come to England. However, he remained in America for eight years longer and worked in New York City and Philadelphia as well as in Boston.

In 1774 Copley visited Italy and then settled in London, where he spent the remainder of his life, enjoying many honors and the patronage of a distinguished clientele. In England his style gained in subtlety and polish but lost most of the vigor and individuality of his early work. He continued to paint portraits but enlarged his repertoire to include the enormous historical paintings that constituted the chief basis of his fame abroad. His large historical painting The Death of Lord Chatham (Tate Gall., London) gained him admittance to the Royal Academy. His rendering of a contemporary disaster, Brook Watson and the Shark (Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston), stands as a unique forerunner of romantic horror painting.

Today Copley's reputation rests largely upon his early American portraits, which are treasured not only for their splendid pictorial qualities but also as the most powerful graphic record of their time and place. Portraits such as those of Nicholas Boylston and Mrs. Thomas Boylston (Harvard), Daniel Hubbard (Art Inst., Chicago), Gov. Mifflin and Mrs. Mifflin (Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia), and Paul Revere (Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston) are priceless documents in which the life of a whole society seems mirrored. Among his finest later portraits are the curiously distorted image of Samuel Adams (Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston) and the group portrait of the Copley family (privately owned). The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has an excellent collection of his works. Copley's son was Baron LyndhurstLyndhurst, John Singleton Copley, Baron,
1772–1863, British jurist, b. Boston, Mass.; son of John Singleton Copley, the American painter. Educated in England, he was called to the bar in 1804.
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See catalog with biography by J. D. Prown (1966); biographies by J. T. Flexner (rev. ed. 1948) and A. V. Frankenstein (1970); C. Rebora et al., John Singleton Copley in America (1995); J. Kamensky, A Revolution in Color (2016).

Copley, John Singleton,

1772–1863, British jurist: see Lyndhurst, John Singleton Copley, BaronLyndhurst, John Singleton Copley, Baron,
1772–1863, British jurist, b. Boston, Mass.; son of John Singleton Copley, the American painter. Educated in England, he was called to the bar in 1804.
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Copley, John Singleton


Born July 3, 1738, in Boston; died Sept. 9, 1815, in London. American painter.

After 1774, Copley lived primarily in London, where he became a member of the Academy of Arts in 1799. He painted realist portraits, sometimes in pastels, which are distinguished by a sincere and fresh realistic approach (Nathaniel Ward, 1765–70, Art Museum, Cleveland; The Boy With a Squirrel c. 1765, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Among Copley’s historical paintings, which reflect a tendency toward purely external effects, his pictures with preromantic elements are particularly noteworthy (Brook Watson and the Shark, 1782, Boston Museum of Fine Arts).


Prown, J. D. J. S. Copley, vols. 1–2. Cambridge (Mass.), 1966.

Copley, John Singleton

(1738–1815) painter; born in Boston, Mass. (stepson of Peter Pelham). Considered the foremost portrait painter in colonial America, he settled in England (1775) at the urging of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West. Although his family was Loyalist, he himself remained neutral during the American Revolution. He was successful in England, as seen in his historical subjects, such as Death of Major Peirson (1782–84). His reputation is based on his early American work, as in Boy with Squirrel (1765), a portrait of his half brother, Henry Pelham. Watson and the Shark (1778) is his most famous narrative painting.
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