National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Copley Family John Singleton Copley (painter)
American, 1738 - 1815
The Copley Family, 1776/1777
oil on canvas
overall: 184.1 x 229.2 cm (72 1/2 x 90 1/4 in.) framed: 226.1 x 271.8 x 13.9 cm (89 x 107 x 5 1/2 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Fund
1961.7.1
On View
From the Tour: British and American Grand Manner Portraits of the 1700s
Object 3 of 12

Having moved separately from colonial Boston to London, the recently reunited Copleys posed for this large group likeness, the artist’s first portrait to include more than two sitters. The thirty-seven-year-old painter holds sketches and looks out as though to introduce his family.

Flanked by three daughters, Copley’s wife, Susanna, hugs their son. (In eighteenth-century custom, toddlers wore long dresses regardless of their sex.) The generations are completed by Copley’s elderly father-in-law, Richard Clarke, a Tory merchant whose investments had been thrown overboard at the Boston Tea Party. The setting is fanciful; no carpeted room ever merged so ambiguously into a forest. The expensive furnishings, though, imply sophistication, while the idyllic landscape suggests simplicity.

Exhibited to wide acclaim at the Royal Academy in 1777, the ambitious picture demonstrated Copley’s recent studies on the continent, where he had learned to integrate a large number of figures into a coherent design. For example, he placed the babies high up on a sofa and in a lap so that their tiny heads would be on a level with their standing, older siblings.

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