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Overview

The pre-eminent portraitist of colonial America, John Singleton Copley was also one of the nation’s most prolific artists. While he occasionally painted politicians and public figures, the majority of his sitters were merchants and members of the gentry. Copley was at the height of his success in this country in the early 1770s when he completed this elegant portrait of Boston distillery owner Thomas Amory II.

Copley was well known for portraying his subjects in lavish costumes and elegant surroundings. In this painting, however, he presents Amory in an understated brown coat and waistcoat, leaning comfortably on a lighter brown, heavy stone column before a similarly colored unarticulated background. The artist’s nearly monochromatic palette contributes to the portrait’s overall subtlety and refinement. At the same time, Copley enlivens the composition through a diagonal line of bright details: Amory’s head, face, white shirt, and one ungloved hand are dramatically illuminated, a play of light Copley continues down the gold-capped, honey-colored walking stick. Amory’s bright eyes, lending a kind air to his wise and dignified countenance, gaze to the right. Taken together, these details lend a sense of narrative to the quiet portrait, suggesting that the merchant has paused during one of the walks he regularly enjoyed along the streets of Boston.

Provenance

Thomas Amory II [1722-1784], Boston; his son, Jonathan Amory [1770-1828], Boston; his son, Thomas C. Amory [1812-1889], Boston; his nephew, Arthur Amory [1841-1911], Boston; his son, Ingersoll Amory [1869-1921], Boston [on deposit with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1912-1922]; transferred 1922 to his niece, Elizabeth Amory Bartlett [Mrs. John McAndrew, 1910-1986], Boston [on deposit with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1922-1940]; her cousin, Robert Amory II [1915-1989], Washington [on deposit with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966-1981, and the Portland Museum of Art, Maine, 1981-1986]; with (Hirsch and Adler Galleries, New York), from 1986; sold 14 September 1989 to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.

Exhibition History
1875
Revolutionary Relics Exhibition, No. 56, Beacon Street, Boston, 1875, no. 159.
1959
Four Boston Masters, Jewett Arts Center, Wellesley; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1959, no. 11.
1995
John Singleton Copley in America, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1995-1996, no. 63.
2004
Figuratively Speaking: The Human Form in American Art, 1770-1950, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2004-2005, unpublished checklist.
2005
Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2005-2007, checklist no. 2.
2008
The American Evolution: A History through Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2008, unpublished checklist.
2009
American Paintings from the Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 6 June-18 October 2009, unpublished checklist.
2013
American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013-28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.
Bibliography
2011
Kelly, Franklin. "John Singleton Copley, Thomas Amory II." In Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash. Washington, 2011: 37, 50-51, 254, repro.