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John Singleton Copley

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John Singleton Copley

American, (1738–1815)
Born in Boston and a loyal patriot, John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) nonetheless left the United States in 1774 and spent the rest of his career as a portrait painter in England. His father-in-law owned the East India Tea Company ship whose cargo was dumped during the Boston Tea party. Already a successful painter in Boston, Copley was reluctant to leave the colonies as the hostilities with Britain worsened, but he did so in order to further his talent by studying from the old masters and working with Benjamin West in London.
Copley studied the art of engraving as a young man, which made him acutely aware of details and helped him become a master of meticulous realism in his paintings. As is seen in Portrait of John Gardiner, his skill in rendering different textures and surfaces was great. This portrait was completed when the artist was only twenty but is already an accomplished piece.
Copley's sitters were almost always posed with objects that helped to identify their occupations or personalities. Here, Mr. Gardiner is seated with his hand on a stack of law books which, along with his formal costume and powdered wig, tells us that he was a lawyer. He gestures towards the edge of the composition where a distant landscape identifies another aspect of his career, that of ambassador to the Bermuda.

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