As 18th-century American colonists grew more prosperous, many sought to record their achievements. Portraits satisfied this desire. One of the challenges confronting the early American painter was that patrons (mostly wealthy New England merchants and businessmen) requested a sophisticated style, in keeping with the English tradition of portraiture. Colonial artists had little access to the paintings or training necessary to develop a style in the English tradition.
John Singleton Copley and his peers studied mezzotint (a method of engraving on copper or steel by burnishing or scraping away a uniformly roughened surface) reproductions of English portraits. Mezzotints were important because they could be bought and sold relatively cheaply, giving artists in the colonies access to art from England and the rest of Europe.
Source: Colonial Identity, Introduction
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