Copley, John Singleton
(b. July 3, 1738, Boston [Mass., U.S.] d. Sept. 9, 1815, London, Eng.)
Generally considered the finest painter
of colonial America, John Singleton Copley painted portraits and historical
subjects. His Boston portraits show a thorough knowledge of his New England
models, and his talent as a draftsman and colorist produced pictures of
aristocratic elegance and grace (emigrated to London in 1775).
Copley was born on July 3, 1738, in Boston, Mass., to immigrants recently
arrived from Ireland. He began to paint in about 1753. His earliest works
show the influence of his stepfather, an engraver, and the Boston artist John
Smibert. In about 1755 Copley met the English artist Joseph Blackburn, whose
use of rococo lightness and coloring he quickly adopted. He also made use of
the rococo device called portrait d'apparat portraying the subject with
objects associated with his daily life that gave his work a distinction not
usually found in 18th-century American painting.
Eager to expand his reputation beyond New England, Copley sent his
Boy with a Squirrel
in 1766 to the Society of Artists in London. It was praised
by both Sir Joshua Reynolds and by the transported American artist
who urged him to come to London. He did so in 1774 and painted his
first important work,
Watson and the Shark,
there in 1778. In this painting
Copley used what became a frequent theme of 19th-century Romantic art, the
struggle of humans against nature.
Although he remained in England the rest of his life and was moderately
successful, his historical paintings never had the vitality or realism of his
Boston portraits. Copley died in London on Sept. 9, 1815.