Overview

John Singleton Copley, America's most important colonial painter, was born in Boston of Irish parents. In 1748 Copley's widowed mother married Peter Pelham, a painter and engraver. Copley's stepfather probably gave him some art lessons but died when Copley was only 13. In later years the painter claimed he was self–taught.

Copley, who was extremely observant, presumably learned about art largely by watching other English–trained painters who were working in the New World and by studying engravings imported from Europe. Much more important was his innate ability to record details objectively and to suggest character. Gilbert Stuart would later say of the uncompromising realism in Copley's Epes Sargent, "Prick that hand and blood will spurt forth."

About 70 years old when he posed for Copley, Sargent had dropped out of Harvard College to enter business in his native Gloucester. After the death of his first wife, this prosperous merchant and shipowner married a rich widow from Salem. Copley's portrayal shows him nonchalantly leaning on a marble pedestal as a symbol of prestige; since carved stone monuments were rather rare in the colonies, this imaginary device must be borrowed from European prints of potentates.

Such penetrating likenesses made Copley the best–paid artist in colonial America. By shipping some of his canvases to London for criticism, Copley soon became known in England.

Inscription

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Marks and Labels

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Provenance

John James Dixwell [1806-1876], Boston, the sitter's great-great-grandson;[1] his daughter, Caroline Dixwell Clements [Mrs. George Henry Clements, 1856-1931], New York;[2] her daughter, Anna Clements Knauth [Mrs. Oswald Whitman Knauth, 1890-1965], New York;[3] her son, Arnold Whitman Knauth II [b. 1918], Rockport, Massachusetts; (Milch Galleries, New York), 1958; (Hirschl and Adler Galleries, Inc., New York), 1958-1959;[4] purchased 1959 by NGA with funds from the Avalon Foundation.

Exhibition History

1863
Pictures lent to the Sanitary Fair for Exhibition, Boston Athenaeum, 1863, no. 140.
1864
Paintings and Statuary exhibited for the Benefit of the National Sailors' Fair, at the Athenaeum Gallery, Boston Athenaeum, 1864, no. 338.
1871
Forty-Seventh Exhibition of Paintings at the Athenaeum Gallery, Boston, 1871, no. 238.
1888
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1888-1892.
1893
Retrospective Exhibit of American Painting, World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893, no. 203.
1909
The Hudson-Fulton Celebration: American Paintings, Furniture, Silver and Other Objects of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1909, no. 8.
1911
An Exhibition of Colonial Portraits, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1911, no. 16.
1917
An Exhibition of Early American Paintings, Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, 1917, no. 18.
1936
An Exhibition of Paintings by John Singleton Copley, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1936-1937, no. 5.
1940
Survey of American Painting, Department of Fine Arts, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1940, no. 62.
1942
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1942-1945.
1945
National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945-1948.
1949
From Colony to Nation: An Exhibition of American Painting, Silver and Architecture From 1650 to the War of 1812, Art Institute of Chicago, 1949, no. 29.
1962
Masterpieces of Art, Seattle World's Fair, 1962, no. 10.
1963
Four Centuries of American Art, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1963-1964, unnumbered.
1965
John Singleton Copley, 1738-1815, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Metropolitan Musuem of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1965-1966, no. 14.
1968
Vassar College Art Gallery, Poughkeepsie, 1968, no cat.
1969
In Memoriam, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, unnumbered checklist.
1976
American Art: 1750-1800, Towards Independence, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1976, no. 11.
1976
The Classical Spirit in American Portraiture, Bell Gallery, Brown University, Providence, 1976, no. 3.
1995
John Singleton Copley in America, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Milwaukee Art Museum, 1995-1996, no. 11, repro.

Bibliography

1863
Catalogue of Pictures lent to the Sanitary Fair for Exhibition. Together with Cataolgue of Paintings and Statuary, of the Athenaeum Gallery, Beacon Street, Boston., Exh. cat. Boston Atheneum, 1863: 13, no. 140.
1864
Catalogue of Paintings and Statuary exh. for the Benefit of the National Sailors' Fair, at the Athenaeum Gallery, Exh. cat. Boston Athenaeum, 1864: 117, no. 338.
1867
Tuckerman, Henry T. Book of the Artists. 1867. 5th ed. 1870. Reprint. New York, 1966: 73.
1871
Catalogue of the Forty-Seventh Exhibition of Paintings at the Athenaeum Gallery, Exh. cat. 2nd ed. Boston, 1871: 10, no. 238.
1873
Perkins, Augustus Thorndike. A Sketch of the Life and a List of Some of the Works of John Singleton Copley. Boston, 1873: 16, 101-102, 105.
1892
Museum of Fine Arts. Catalogue of Paintings and Drawings, With a Summary of other Works of Art, Exhibited on the Second Floor. 3rd ed. Boston, 1892: 15, no. 144.
1893
Retrospective Exhibit of American Painting. Exh. cat. World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893: no. 203.
1904
Isham, Samuel. "The Art of Copley." Masters in Art Boston, 1904: 5:39, pl. 7.
1909
The Hudson-Fulton Celebration: American Paintings, Furniture, Silver and Other Objects of Art, The Hudson-Fulton Celebration 2. Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1909: no. 8.
1911
An Exhibition of Colonial Portraits, Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1911: no. 16.
1915
Bayley, Frank W. The Life and Works of John Singleton Copley. Boston, 1915: 214-215.
1917
An Exhibition of Early American Paintings, Exh. cat. Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, 1917: no. 18.
1923
Sargent, Emma Worcester, and Charles Sprague Sargent. Epes Sargent of Gloucester and his Descendants. Boston and New York, 1924: 6-8, frontispiece.
1924
Cortissoz, Royal. "The Field of Art." Scribner's Magazine 76 (July 1924). Reprinted as "Early American Portraiture" In Personalities in Art New York and London, 1925: 110.
1927
Mather, Frank Jewett, Jr., Charles Rufus Morey, and William James Henderson. The Pageant of America. Vol. 12 The American Spirit in Art. Ralph Henry Gabriel, ed. New Haven, 1927: 10, repro. ("Painting" by Mather).
1930
Bolton, Theodore and Harry Lorin Binsse. "John Singleton Copley." The Antiquarian 15 (December 1930): 118.
1936
An Exhibition of Paintings by John Singleton Copley, Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1936-1937: no. 5.
1937
Morgan, John Hill. "Some Notes on John Singleton Copley." Antiques 31 (March 1937): 117.
1937
Shipton, Clifford K., ed. Sibley's Harvard Graduates. Vol. 5, Biographical Sketches of those who attended Harvard College in the Classes 1701-1712. Boston, 1937: 645-646, repro. opp. 645.
1938
Parker, Barbara Neville and Anne Bolling Wheeler. John Singleton Copley: American Portraits in Oil, Pastel, and Miniature with Biographical Sketches. Boston, 1938: 11, 171-172, pl. 21.
1939
Morgan, John Hill. John Singleton Copley. Windham, Connecticut, 1939: 12.
1940
Hagen, Oskar. The Birth of the American Tradition in Art. New York, 1940: 101.
1940
Lane, James W. "This Year the Carnegie National." Art News 39 (October 1940): 12, repro. 8.
1942
"Reunion in Minneapolis," Art Digest 17 (15 October 1942): 15.
1949
From Colony to Nation: An Exhibition of American Painting, Silver and Architecture From 1650 to the War of 1812, Exh. cat. The Art Institute of Chicago, 1949: no. 29.
1950
Barker, Virgil. "Copley's American Portraits." Magazine of Art 43 (March 1950): 83.
1951
Walker, John. Paintings from America. Harmondsworth, England, 1951: 15, 42, pl. 2.
1960
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 9.
1962
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 128, color repro.
1962
Masterpieces of Art, Exh. cat. Seattle World's Fair, 1962: no. 10.
1963
Four Centuries of American Art, Exh. cat. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1963-1964: unnumbered.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 320, repro.
1965
John Singleton Copley, Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Metropolitan Musuem of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1965-1966: no. 14.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:392, color repro.
1966
Prown, Jules David. John Singleton Copley. 2 vols. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1966: 1:33-34, 42, 77, 84, 156-157, 180-181, 190-191, 227-228, fig. 89.
1966
Prown, Jules David. "The Art Historian and the Computer; An Analysis of Copley's Patronage 1753-1774." The Smithsonian Journal of History 1, no. 4 (1966): 27, 30.
1970
American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 46, repro.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 390, fig. 562, color repro.
1976
American Art: 1750-1800, Towards Independence, Exh. cat. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1976: no. 11.
1976
The Classical Spirit in American Portraiture, Exh. cat. Bell Gallery, Brown University, Providence, 1976: no. 3.
1976
Wilmerding, John. American Art. Hammondsworth, England, and New York, 1976: 36-37, pl. 34.
1980
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 138, repro.
1980
Perkins and Gavin 1980, 40.
1980
Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 13, 44, repro.
1981
Quick, Michael. "Princely Images in the Wilderness: 1720-1775." American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720-1920 Exh. cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1981: 19.
1981
Williams 1981, repro. 13 (detail), 21, color repro. 42.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 387, no. 547, color repro.
1986
Yarnall and Gerdts 1986, 1:825, nos. 19962 and 19963.
1988
Fleischer, Roland E. "Emblems and Colonial American Painting." The American Art Journal 20, no. 3 (1988): 31-32, repro.
1988
Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 52, repro.
1992
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 147, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 208, repro.
1995
Miles, Ellen G. American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1995: 24-28, color repro. 26.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 290, no. 234, color repro.

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