Art You Should Know #3
John Singleton Copley’s portraits of colonial New Englanders, including Paul Revere and John Hancock, are considered among the best examples of early American art. In painting “visual biographies”—portraits that subtly indicated the sitter’s social position through narrative details—Copley endeared himself to his patrons by depicting them as they desired to project themselves. Embodying the same entrepreneurial spirit underlying the success of many of his working-class subjects, the self-taught Copley built a name for himself by introducing private exhibitions and promoting mass-market prints of his own work. While known primarily for his oil paintings, Copley was also a pioneering American pastelist, having requested a set of the “best Swiss crayons” from the Swiss painter Jean-Étienne Liotard. Upon emigrating to London in 1774, he concentrated on historical narrative scenes—as in his famed Watson and the Shark (1778)—then considered to be the highest form artistic expression.
American, 1738-1815, Boston, Massachusetts