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: John Singleton Copley
Object 7 of 12

Having moved to England, the Copleys posed for this huge group likeness, which was 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. While three daughters look on, Copley’s wife, Susanna, hugs their son. (In eighteenth-century custom, toddlers wore long dresses regardless of their gender.) The aged Richard Clarke, Copley’s father-in-law, was a Tory merchant whose investments had been thrown overboard at the Boston Tea Party.

The imaginary setting acts as a dual allegory of the Copleys’ civilized sophistication, represented by the elegant furnishings, and their natural simplicity, recalled by the Arcadian landscape. Exhibited 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 siblings.

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