Reynolds wrote of the work: “In any Collection of Painting it will pass for an excellent Picture, but considering the Disadvantages…you had labored under, that it was a very wonderfull Performance.” And a “wonderfull Performance” it is. The detail in the painting is extraordinary, and in many ways, the work was a way for Copley to exhibit his mostly self-taught technical skills. From the meticulously rendered buttonholes to the soft reflections dancing on the mahogany tabletop, this canvas was a bold announcement of Copley’s talent.
And the squirrel? It turns out squirrels were popular household pets, especially for children, in 18th- and 19th-century America. Squirrels were so beloved that in 1772, Benjamin Franklin wrote an elegy to the fallen squirrel of his friend Georgiana Shipley. He gave it the title: “On the Loss of Her American Squirrel, Who Escaping from His Cage Was Killed by a Shepherd’s Dog.”