John Singleton Copley – John Singleton Copley Self-Portrait – Google Art Project. Anglo-American painter, active in both colonial America and England. He was probably born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Richard and Mary Singleton Copley, both Artistically creative development of children-Irish. Copley’s mother owned a tobacco shop on Long Wharf.
The parents, who, according to the artist’s granddaughter Martha Babcock Amory, had come to Boston in 1736, were “engaged in trade, like almost all the inhabitants of the North American colonies at that time”. Except for a family tradition that speaks of his precocity in drawing, nothing is known of Copley’s schooling or of the other activities of his boyhood. His letters, the earliest of which is dated September 30, 1762, reveal a fairly well-educated man. The artistic opportunities of the home and town in which Copley grew to manhood should be emphasized because he himself, as well as some of his biographers taking him too literally, have made much of the bleakness of his early surroundings. Copley was about fourteen and his stepfather had recently died, when he made the earliest of his portraits now preserved, a likeness of his half-brother Charles Pelham, good in color and characterization though it has in its background accessories which are somewhat out of drawing. It is a remarkable work to have come from so young a hand. Besides painting portraits in oil, doubtless after a formula learned from Peter Pelham, Copley was a pioneer American pastellist.
He wrote, on September 30, 1762, to the Swiss painter Jean-Étienne Liotard, asking him for “a sett of the best Swiss Crayons for drawing of Portraits. Copley’s fame was established in England by the exhibition, in 1766, of A Boy with a Squirrel, which depicted his half-brother, Henry Pelham, seated at a table and playing with a pet squirrel. West’s subsequent letters were considerably responsible for making Copley discontented with his situation and prospects in a colonial town. Copley in his letters to West of October 13 and November 12, 1766 gleefully accepted the invitation to send other pictures to the Exhibition and mournfully referred to himself as “peculiarly unlucky in Liveing in a place into which there has not been one portrait brought that is worthy to be call’d a Picture within my memory. The income which Copley earned by painting in the 1760s was extraordinary for his town and time. It had promoted the son of a needy tobacconist into the local aristocracy. The foremost personages of New England came to his painting-room as sitters.
In town and church affairs Copley took almost no part. He referred to himself as “desireous of avoideing every imputation of party spirit. Political contests being neighther pleasing to an artist or advantageous to the Art itself. His name appeared on January 29, 1771, on a petition of freeholders and inhabitants to have the powder house removed from the town whose existence it imperiled. It was known to earlier biographers that Copley at one time painted portraits in New York City. The circumstances of this visit, which was supplemented by a few days in Philadelphia, were first disclosed through Prof.
Copley visited Philadelphia, where, at the home of Chief Justice William Allen, they “saw a fine Coppy of the Titian Venus and Holy Family at whole length as large as life from Coregio”. His correspondents in England continued to urge Copley to undertake European studies. He saved an undated and unsigned letter from some one who wrote: “Our people here are enrapture’d with him, he is compared to Vandyck, Reubens and all the great painters of Old. His brother-in-law Jonathan Clarke, already in London, advised his “comeing this way. West wrote, on January 6, 1773: “My Advice is, Mrs. Political and economic conditions in Boston were increasingly turbulent. Clarke, was the merchant to whom was consigned the tea that provoked the Boston Tea Party.
Copley’s family connections were all Loyalists. He defended his wife’s relatives at a meeting described in his letter of December 1, 1773. With many letters of introduction, all of which are published in the Copley-Pelham correspondence, Copley sailed from Boston in June 1774, leaving his mother, wife, and children in Henry Pelham’s charge. He wrote on July 11 from London “after a most easy and safe passage. An early call was upon West, to “find in him those amiable qualitys that makes his friendship boath desireable as an artist and as a Gentleman. Copley’s plan of study and mode of living at Rome are described in several letters.
Brook Watson from a shark attack in Havana, Cuba. As an English painter Copley began in 1775 a career promising at the outset and destined from personal and political causes to end in gloom and adversity. His technique was so well established, his habits of industry so well confirmed, and the reputation that had preceded him from America was so extraordinary, that he could hardly fail to make a place for himself among British artists. Following a fashion set by West and others, Copley began to paint historical pieces as well as portraits. His first foray into this genre was Watson and the Shark, its subject based on an incident related to the artist by Brook Watson, who had been attacked by a shark while swimming in Havana harbour as a 14-year-old boy. For a place over the fireplace of the George St. Boston, which, when first publicly shown by Lord Lyndhurst at the Manchester exhibition, 1862, was “pronounced by competent critics to be equal to any, in the same style, by Vandyck”.