Copley, John Singleton
The foremost artist of colonial America and one of its most prolific. John Singleton 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 (see Rococo Style). 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 (1768?, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), an intense likeness of the patriot-silversmith holding one of his silver teapots. By 1760 John Singleton Copley's distinctive style had crystallized, characterized by meticulous technique, clear verisimilitude, and a vivid, balanced palette.
Well aware of his outstanding gifts, John Singleton Copley sent his oil painting The Boy with a Squirrel (1765, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) to London, where it was exhibited. Impressed by the oil painting, the English portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds and the expatriate American painter Benjamin West urged John Singleton Copley to immigrate to Europe. In 1774 John Singleton 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, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; a copy that John Singleton Copley made for himself is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), a virtuoso rendering of an actual incident in Havana Harbor. Under West's influence, John Singleton Copley turned to history painting, with such splendid large canvases as The Death of the Earl of Chatham (1779-1781, Tate Gallery, London), a dramatically composed version of a timely event. John Singleton Copley died on September 9, 1815, in London.
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