John Singleton Copley
About the artist:
John Singleton Copley RA (1738 – September 9, 1815) was an Anglo-American painter, active in both colonial America and England. He was probably born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Richard and Mary Singleton Copley, both Anglo-Irish. After becoming well-established as a portrait painter of the wealthy in colonial New England, he moved to London in 1774, never returning to America. In London he met considerable success as a portraitist for the next two decades, and also painted a number of large history paintings, which were innovative in their readiness to depict modern subjects and modern dress. His later years were less successful, and he died heavily in debt. Although he was steadily employed with commissions from the Boston bourgeoisie, Copley wanted to test himself against the standards of Europe. In 1766, therefore, he exhibited Boy with a Squirrel at the Society of Artists in London. It was highly praised both by Sir Joshua Reynolds and by Copley’s countryman Benjamin West. Copley married in 1769. Although he was urged by fellow artists who were familiar with his work to study in Europe, he did not venture out of Boston except for a seven-month stay in New York City (June 1771–January 1772). When political and economic conditions in Boston began to deteriorate (Copley’s father-in-law was the merchant to whom the tea that provoked the Boston Tea Party was consigned), Copley left the country in June 1774, never to return. In 1775 his wife, children, and several other family members arrived in London, and Copley established a home there in 1776. His ambitions in Europe went beyond portraiture; he was eager to make a success in the more highly regarded sphere of historical painting. In his first important work in this genre, Watson and the Shark (1778), Copley used what was to become one of the great themes of 19th-century Romantic art: the struggle of man against nature. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1779. His English paintings grew more academically sophisticated and self-conscious, but in general they lacked the extraordinary vitality and penetrating realism of his Boston portraits. Although his physical and mental health were in decline in his later years, he continued to paint with considerable success until the last few months of his life.
John Singleton Copley RA (1738 – September 9, 1815) was an Anglo-American painter, active in both colonial America and England. He was probably born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Richard and Mary Singleton Copley, both Anglo-Irish. After