John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
Currently on view
Robert "King" Hooper
Oil on canvas
50 x 39 3/4 in. (127.0 x 101.0 cm.)
The Henry S. McNeil Fund. Given in loving memory of her husband by Lois F. McNeil and in honor of their parents by Barbara and Henry A. Jordan, Marjorie M. Findlay, and Robert D. McNeil
After the death of his stepfather, a mezzotint engraver named Peter Pelham (ca. 1697-1751), the teenage John Singleton Copley was left with a rudimentary artistic education, a collection of engravings, and a mother and half-brother to support. This he did with a great deal of competence, bravery, and native talent, beginning a career as a portraitist that would ultimately take him to the heights of Boston society. Nevertheless, Copley yearned after Europe, establishing a correspondence with his contemporary Benjamin West and sending canvases abroad for exhibition. When family ties conflicted with local politics (Copley's father-in-law, Richard Clarke, was the merchant targeted during the Boston Tea Party), the artist eventually emigrated to Europe on the eve of the American Revolution, settling in London.
This portrait of Hopper, a successful businessman from Marblehead, Massachusetts, is both imposing and intimate. Copley's keen powers of observation and extraordinary facility in manipulating oil paint to mimic different materials and textures are on vivid display in the sweep of the drapery, the glint of light off the inkwell, and the fine penmanship on the letter Hopper is writing. All these qualities made Copley the most sought-after artist in Boston - with sitters as far away as New York eagerly seeking his work.