John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)

By 1760 John Singleton Copley became the colonies’ leading artist. His swift rise and continued standing were the result of his ability to handle paint and produce images that were greater than anything yet produced in America. Through his stepfather, Copley had access to a vast collection of prints of old masters and English portraits, which he used as the basis for his early historical compositions like The Return of Neptune, and for portraits. Copley learned how to compose his pictures to the liking of his patrons, who wanted English-style portraits but rarely travelled to England. He worked in various media, including pastels and miniatures.

Copley molded his subjects into the image they wanted to project. He skillfully choreographed bodies, settings, and objects into visual biographies that reflected their social position. The portrait of Daniel Crommelin Verplanck is a perfect rendering of the boy’s potential and his father’s wish to see his son portrayed as a member of one of New York’s most prominent families.

In Boston and New York, Copley's paintings had great social value. As a result, Copley’s work flooded the market and contributed to the forging of social identity for the American merchant class.

Copley achieved his position as portraitist to the merchant elite of Boston and New York because he thought and behaved like a gentleman. In an era of growing class divisions and political upheaval, Copley flourished. He closely identified with his patrons and, until their world collapsed on the eve of the American Revolution, he captured and confirmed their values and hopes.

In 1774, Copley traveled to London and remained there for the rest of his life. With the success of The Siege of Gibraltar, Copley joined the top ranks of British painters and was elected to the Royal Academy.

Source: John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)
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