Patrick Tracy demonstrates a colonial American rapidly absorbing the British "Grand Manner." The subject, a Massachusetts warehouse owner, appropriately rests his hand on an anchor and stands on a shell-strewn beach before crates and barrels. His hoary features reveal his seventy-some years, but his delicate fingers and slender calves apparently belong to a much younger man. In the colonies, John Singleton Copley had encouraged Trumbull in painting, and the face's sharp realism is an homage to Copley's American frankness. The body, however, adheres to the flattering canons for harmonized proportions that were advocated by Sir Joshua Reynolds, president of the Royal Academy.
Trumbull's account book for 1784 resolves the dilemma: "Whole length of Mr. P. Tracy (father of Nat) leaning on an anchor -- head copied." Nat Tracy, the subject's son, apparently commissioned the portrait while in London on business. Since Patrick was still in America, Trumbull adapted his face from a likeness which Nat must have lent him, but did the rest in his new style.
While working on this life-size portrait, Trumbull received an unprecedented honor from Benjamin West. West, who had intended to paint a vast series of scenes illustrating the characters and events of the War of Independence, decided he was too busy and passed the idea along to his pupil. The resulting history paintings culminated in Trumbull's world-famous murals in the Capitol's Rotunda.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, pages 299-303, which is available as a free PDF at https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/american-paintings-18th-century.pdf
Probably bequeathed by the sitter to his daughter, Hannah Tracy Jackson [Mrs. Jonathan Jackson, 1755-1797], Newburyport, Massachusetts; her son, Patrick Tracy Jackson [1780-1847], Boston; Patrick Tracy Jackson, Jr. [1813-1891], Boston and Pride's Crossing, Massachusetts; Patrick Tracy Jackson III [1844-1918], Cambridge and Pride's Crossing, Massachusetts; Patrick Tracy Jackson IV [1871-1959], Boston and Boothbay, Maine; Patrick Tracy Jackson V [b. 1906], Boothbay Harbor, Maine; gift 1964 to NGA.
- Second Exhibition of Paintings in the Athenaeum Gallery, Boston Atheneum, 1828, no. 4, as by John Singleton Copley.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1880-1886, attributed to Copley.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1910-1911, as by an unknown artist.
- On loan to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1952-1964.
- La Pintura de Los Estados Unidos de Museos de la Ciudad de Washington, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, 1980-1981, no. 4, color repro.
- John Trumbull: The Hand and Spirit of a Painter, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1982-1983, no. 39.
- Second Exhibition of Paintings in the Athenaeum Gallery, Exh. cat. Boston Atheneum, 1828: no. 4, as by John Singleton Copley. [See Perkins and Gavin 1980, 39.]
- Tuckerman, Henry T. Book of the Artists. New York, 1867: 73.
- Perkins, Augustus T. "Notes on Blackburn and Smibert." Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings 16 (December 1878): 391.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Fifteenth Catalogue of the Collection of Ancient and Modern Works of Art given or lent to the Trustees. Boston, 1880: part 2, 22, no. 266.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Catalogue of Works of Art Exhibited on the Second Floor. Boston, 1886, 37, no. 404, as by Copley.
- Currier, John J. Ould Newbury. Boston, 1896: 547, repro. 546.
- Putnam, James Jackson. A Memoir of Dr. James Jackson. Boston and New York, 1906: x, repro. opp. 68.
- Lee, Thomas Amory. "The Tracy Family of Newburyport." Essex Institute Historical Collections 57 (January 1921)L 58.
- Sizer, Theodore. "An Early Check-List of the Paintings of John Trumbull." Yale University Gazette 22 (April 1948): 121, no. 15.
- Sizer, Theodore. "A Tenative `Short-Title' Check-List of the Works of Colonel John Trumbull. Part III," The Art Bulletin 31 (March 1949): 27, fig. 5.
- Sizer, Theodore. The Works of Colonel Trumbull. New Haven, 1950: 54, fig. 12; Rev. ed. 1967: 71.
- Sizer, Theodore. "Colonel John Trumbull's Works: A Final Report." The Art Bulletin 38, no. 2 (June 1956): 116.
- Sizer, Theodore. The Works of Colonel John Trumbull. Rev. ed. New Haven and London, 1967: 71.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 116, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 250, repro.
- La Pintura de Los Estados Unidos de Museos de la Ciudad de Washington. Exh. cat. Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, 1980-1981: no. 4.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 10, 54, repro.
- Cooper, Helen A., ed. John Trumbull: The Hand and Spirit of a Painter. Exh. cat. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1982: 99, 100 (fig. 53, color), 116.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 392, no. 559, color repro.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 62, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 368, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 216, repro.
- Miles, Ellen G. American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1995: 299-303, color repro. 301.