John Singleton Copley, Boy with a Squirrel, 1765, oil on canvas, 30¼” x 25”, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons John Singleton Copley, Boy with a Squirrel, 1765, oil on canvas, 30¼” x 25”, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

John Singleton Copley and the Painter’s Craft

Back in the Colonial era in America, people were suspicious of art.

Art was aristocratic and European.  The colonies most definitely were not.

It was not easy for artists like John Singleton Copley to find training or work.  Typically for an artist from this time, Copley was self-taught because there were no art academies in the colonies.

Copley’s attention to surface detail and texture are characteristic of the style of the self-taught artist.

This is a painting of the artist’s half-brother, Henry Pelham, seated at a table with his pet squirrel.  Note the softness of the boy’s hair, the smooth surface of the finished wood table, the shine of the satin collar, and the translucency of the water in the glass.  The artist’s purpose with this work of art was to demonstrate his technical skills.

Copley sent the painting to an exhibition in England in 1766, where it was admired for its color above all else.  Despite the fact that some Londoners found it too hard-edged and linear in style, the painting earned Copley an international reputation and an invitation to study painting in London.  This struggling colonial artist thereby achieved everything he had set out to accomplish with this demonstration piece.

Other paintings by John Singleton Copley

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