Fine American amd European Paintings  - February 2015

[framed image available]

John Singleton Copley
(American, 1738-1815)
Thomas Hancock (1703-1764), 1766
Pastel on paper, mounted on cotton cloth; 23 1/2 × 17 1/2 inches
Signed and dated at lower left: "J. Copley/[fecit?] 1766"
Provenance: Descended in the family of the sitter to John Hancock Tilton, Haverhill, Massachusetts.
Exhibited: One Hundred Colonial Portraits, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1930, no. 27 and 30 (repro. In cat., pp. 45–46); John Singleton Copley (1738–1815): Loan Exhibition of Paintings, Pastels, Miniatures, and Drawings in Commemoration of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Artist's Birth, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1938.
References: Frank W. Bayley, The Life and Works of John Singleton Copley (Boston, 1915), pp. 138–139. Theodore Bolton, Early American Portrait Draftsmen in Crayon (New York, F. F. Sherman, 1923), no. 25, p. 19. Barbara Neville Parker and Anne Bolling Wheeler, John Singleton Copley: American Portraits (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1938), p. 223, pl. 127. Augustus Thorndike Perkins, A Sketch of the Life and Some of the Works of John Singleton Copley (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1873), p. 69. Jules David Prown, John Singleton Copley in America 1738–1774 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press for the National Gallery of Art, 1966), pp. 217–218, figs. 156 and 157. Carrie Rebora and Paul Staiti et al., John Singleton Copley in America (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995), p. 221
Note: The portrait retains what appears to be the original frame.

RS 5541

Born in Boston, John Singleton Copley learned about art from his stepfather, the portrait painter and mezzotint engraver Peter Pelham. His talent developed quickly and by the 1760s, he was considered the most skilled artist active in Colonial America. Benjamin West (1738–1820) urged Copley to travel and study in Europe. Although favorable response from West and others told Copley that he could succeed in the art centers of Europe, he remained in Boston for several more years, continuing in his lucrative portrait practice and marrying into an important family of successful Boston merchants. In the years leading up to the Revolution, Copley enjoyed the patronage of both Tories and Whigs, but his own Loyalist sympathies and those of his family were a deciding factor in his move to Europe in 1774. After traveling on the continent, Copley was joined by his family and settled in London by the end of 1775, and set up a studio in a fashionable neighborhood where he could receive wealthy and prominent sitters. Although his early aspirations and West's example inspired him to paint historical subjects, he recognized that his family's prosperity would depend on his portraits—especially if the Copley's were to lose their American property.

Thomas Hancock and his wife were prominent members of the Boston wealthy mercantile elite. He was an uncle of John Hancock, the signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a moderate Tory who served on the Boston City Council. The Hancocks, who were Congregationalists, married in 1730; they had no children. Copley first portrayed Thomas Hancock in 1758, when he executed a pastel (private collection) and a miniature (National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.). When Thomas Hancock died, an elaborate full-length portrait in oil was commissioned for Harvard College, based on the 1758 likeness. Copley finished the oil portrait in 1766, at which time he executed these two pastels, as well as a miniature of Lydia Henchman Hancock (National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.).


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