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In the years leading up to the American revolution, Copley painted both loyalists (such as Nicholas Boylston and Mrs. Benjamin Pickman) and revolutionaries (such as Paul Revere and Sam Adams). How does he stage the identities of these figures in different ways? What makes a revolutionary look like a revolutionary? What about the “founding fathers” of the United States? How does Gilbert Stuart, a slightly later portrait painter, create the mythology surrounding George Washington and others in his work? Are Stuart’s images of Washington consistent with what you read in Weems’s very popular biography? You don’t have to address all of these questions in your post.

5 Responses to “Copley, Stuart, Weems, and the Founding Fathers”

  1. Stevie Durocher says:

    If you are to take into account only the portraits of John Singleton Copley when crafting an identity of prominent figures of Revolutionary America, you will see a distinct difference between those who are Loyalists and those considered Revolutionaries. The portraits of Boylston and Mrs. Pickman portray two individuals who enjoy the finer things in life. Robed in expensive, likely imported, fabrics and surrounded by lavish materialistic goods, these two members of society find their identities deeply rooted in their wealth. The portraits of Adams and Revere tell a different story. Revolutionaries, these two men wear that which is practical, rather than that which is lavish, and in their portraits they are surrounded by tools and documents, those goods which can best serve them in their quest for Independence. These are men who work hard, not men who revel in their wealth.

    To craft an identity of American’s great men by looking at Gilbert Stuart’s portraits, one has less materialistic identity from which to draw. Stuart’s portraits represent the man as he is, only a man without possession. These paintings–with the exception of the “Lansdowne Portrait”–are of each man only from head to mid-chest, which brings the audience’s attention not to each man’s wealth but to each man’s mind and heart. These portraits depict men who are earnest and wise, not frivolous and extravagant. Further, the painting technique gives each portrait a mystified feel, as they are almost blurry and create a sense that these men aren’t even fully men but almost gods who have been sent on a grand mission. It’s far-fetched, but Stuart makes these men seem as though they are in some way beyond that of which humans are capable.

  2. Samantha Re says:

    Revolutionaries were portrayed by Copley very differently from the Loyalists. Revolutionaries such as Hancock, Adams, and Revere were depicted looking like they were deep in thought, and for the most part they were not looking directly at the viewer but stared off to the side. They were painted with books that were open and in use. Furthermore, they were painted as simple men, in front of minimalist backgrounds (solid, monotone colors) who wore simple clothes (often suits with minimal detailing). On the other hand, Loyalists such as Atkinson and Boylston had colorful, and luxurious backgrounds, looked straight into the camera, and wore clothes with silky, detailed fabric we can assume has been imported from England. Loyalists, even when depicted with a scroll or book, seemed more concerned with the viewer and their appearance.

    • Bailey Marshall says:

      Copley’s portrayal of revolutionaries such as Samuel Adams differs from his portrayal of loyalists such as Nicholas Boylston. Samuel Adams, for example is dressed in professional clothing that appears dull and unrefined while Nicholas Boylston is dressed in luxurious clothing that exudes his wealth. Their difference in dress suggests their different standings in the larger social order. The two figures also interact differently with the props that are associated with them in their portraits. Adams is pointing at the books and scrolls in front of him, drawing attention to these objects and directing the viewer’s gaze onto these objects. Contrastingly, Boylston is merely using the books in his portrait as an armrest and consequently the viewer pays less attention to these objects and more attention to the lavish silk robe and headpiece he is wearing. Copley’s portrait of Adams emphasizes his intelligence and work ethic and his portrait of Boylston emphasizes his abundance of wealth and elite social status.

  3. Daniel Reed says:

    Copley’s portraits of revolutionaries are notably different from his portraits of Loyalist traders, especially in the following ways:

    Setting: the revolutionaries are, for the most part, in simple and nondescript surroundings. The Loyalists are in locations of luxury (e.g. Boylston’s room) and grandiosity (e.g. Atkinson’s natural surroundings).

    Dress: the Loyalists are dressed in elegant finery (silk is common), while the Revolutionaries are for the most part in practical or professional clothing. Paul Revere is shown in only a simple shirt and vest, and so clearly does not subscribe to the same opulence as the Loyalists.

    Action: the Revolutionaries are portrayed in the act of actually DOING something (e.g. Revere at work as a silversmith; Hancock and John & Sam Adams at work drafting documents or studying maps). The Loyalists are shown at leisure (e.g. Atkinson on a stroll; Boylston lounging; others seated). This is especially apparent in comparing Nicholas Boylston and John Hancock. They sit in the same position, but while Boylston lounges with his books closed, Hancock sits in concentration, books open, with pen in hand.

    It seems likely that these differences were consciously emphasized by the Revolutionaries, who wanted to be portrayed as practical, down-to-earth men who were AGAINST the very luxury and inequality that is inherent in the portraits of the Loyalists.

  4. Chelsea Montello says:

    Paul Revere and Nicholas Boylston were surely very different men in reality, and they appear quite differently in Copley’s portraits. We have seen before the lavish and excessive nature of the likes fo Nicholas Boylston and Mrs. Benjamin Pickman, loyalists, but Copley’s portraits of revolutionaries are subtly different. Copley incorporates his love for fabric, still, but the dress of these revolutionaries does not stand out as much as, say, Boylston’s engulfing robe. Instead, Copley focuses on expression and the props held by the sitters; their look pensive, stern, and determined, and they are surrounded by books, papers, and/or maps. They are clearly educated men with projects to work on. In the case of John Adams, it seems that a Roman statue holds an olive branch in the background, eluding to Republican ideals and peace. There is clearly less focus on material wealth and success in the revolutionaries’ portraits than there is emphasis on their hard work and planning in the political sphere.

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