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May/June 2012

John Singleton Copley's Mrs Richard Skinner (Dorothy Wendell)

Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2012;14(3):228-229. doi:10.1001/archfacial.2012.247

John Singleton Copley is one of the first great artists America produced. When Copley was at the height of his popularity, there was a lack of appreciation for painting in an America that still hung on to its puritanical roots, especially in Copley's hometown of Boston, Massachusetts. His parents were Irish immigrants who came to the United States in 1736. Copley was born 2 years later, and his father died shortly after that.1(p4) Copley's mother remarried to a man named Peter Pelham. Pelham made a living running a school that taught dancing and threw parties, which caused the pious members of Boston's upper crust to look down their noses at him. In addition to running the school, Pelham also supplemented his income by making mezzotints after portraits of important citizens as well as other works of art. Pelham had had a reputation in England as an engraver before he came to the Colonies and was one of the first talented printmakers to settle in Boston.1(p9) Pelham taught Copley about engraving as well as art history. John Smithbert was also making a living in Boston at the time as one of the only portrait painters in town. Smithbert seems to have been a friend of Pelham and must have also tutored Copley in drawing and engraving. Copley would later write that the copies that Smithbert had made that he had studied as a child were “inaccurate, miscolored [sic], and badly drawn.”1(pp14-15)

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