John Singleton Copley's Boy with a squirrel : colonial American status and Anglicizing form

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2011-08

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Conti, Nicole Noel

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In 1765, Boston artist John Singleton Copley sent Boy with a Squirrel—a portrait of his half-brother Henry Pelham—across the Atlantic Ocean; the painting ended up in the hands of London-based artists Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West. Because the work did not depict a patron and it was intended for an artistic audience, Boy with a Squirrel challenges the functionality of traditional portraiture in mid-eighteenth century colonial America. In Boy with a Squirrel, Copley uses form, iconography, and composition as a way to assert to his English counterparts his belonging to the London art community, showcasing his knowledge and even mastery of British and continental traditions. Copley communicates his membership in the London art public through his use through the formal lexicon of his desired audience, effectively Anglicizing his forms. While Anglicization plays a central role in the emergence of the public self in the mid- eighteenth-century American colonies, Copley's adaptation of Anglicizing forms challenges many of the standard conventions. Though the exchange of information between Britain and the American colonies was slow and incomplete, Copley would have had many different opportunities to learn about the British and continental traditions he hoped to demonstrate. The circulation of books and prints, the display of private collections, John Smibert's copies of masterworks, and the growing awareness of the Grand Tour all would have informed Copley's awareness of these British tastes.

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