John Singleton Copley in America

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9780870997440: John Singleton Copley in America
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"Unexpectedly, John Singleton Copley illuminated Boston's colonial sky," writes one of the authors of this volume. The son of poor Irish immigrants, Copley (1738-1815) became the supreme portraitist of the colonial era before he left his native Boston for England in 1774. Primarily in Boston, and to some extent in New York, Copley depicted contemporary merchant princes, clergymen, and military officers and their wives, as well as Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and other political leaders. His splendidly painted portraits provided his sitters, Loyalists and revolutionaries alike, with the opulent images they craved and brought him spectacular material success.
This book, which accompanies an important exhibition of Copley's work organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is the first major study of the artist published since 1966. Like the exhibition, it focuses on the large-scale paintings, miniatures, and pastels Copley executed before he moved to London, on the theory that his American oeuvre is unified by the circumstances of its production and is stylistically and intellectually distinct from his English pictures.

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Copley was an American painting original, producing several hundred portraits of well-to-do Bostonian colonials. Some canvasses are widely recognized, as of patriots Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, or John Hancock, but the Copley corpus is what fascinates art historians for its window on the merchant class in prerevolutionary society. As a purveyor to that class, Copley produced miniatures, pastels, and crayons, and even frames at various rates (one writer here reprints his bills). Viewers at this distance prefer his best work in oils, however, which the authors critique for their antecedent sources and the contemporary fashions they depict; Copley's images of costumery clothe the self-assured nonchalance his subjects wished to convey, and his best portraits (as of the Boylston siblings) are magnetic. The Copley exhibition appears this fall in New York, Boston, Milwaukee, and Houston. If libraries there and elsewhere wish to splurge, this informative and glossy album should please many. Gilbert Taylor

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