The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
By the time he painted the quarter-length portrait of his adolescent half-brother, which is known as Henry Pelham (Boy With a Squirrel), John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) was as fine a painter as could be found anywhere in the Colonies. Indeed, probably the best. He was 27 years old and had been painting “face-pictures” in Boston for a dozen years. He was well known, well-connected, and popular and derived an income from his painting that supported his thrice-widowed mother, Henry, her youngest child, and himself handsomely. But Copley was ambitious and Boston was confining. A colonial outpost, it offered little, if anything, in the way of either training or criticism to one who aspired to paint in the grand European manner. Copley's desire was to make great history canvases, to paint huge mythology and religious scenes in the grand manner of the European masters. For that, he needed training abroad, he believed, in Italy for certain, and also in London, where he knew the American expatriate Benjamin West. On the other hand, even if he should accomplish these goals, there would be no market for such pictures in Boston. Before new settlers are interested in history, they are interested in the present: they want likenesses of themselves, especially of the women and children, not of long-dead heroes nor battles whose outcome has been forgotten.
Southgate MT. Henry Pelham (Boy With a Squirrel). JAMA. 2006;295(16):1872. doi:10.1001/jama.295.16.1872