Paul Revere, one of the most famous paintings by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), hangs in the new Art of the Americas wing at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Although the name "Copley" is commonplace in names of Boston streets, hotels, and stores, this is an art history case of unrequited love.
Raised in Boston by Irish emigrant parents, Copley was one of the leading American painters in Colonial America, but he disagreed with the Revolution. He left the fledging country in 1775 never to return to Boston (or the United States).
John Singleton Copley. Paul Revere. c. 1768-70. Oil on canvas, 35" by 28 1/2". Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Joseph W., William B., and Edward H. R. Revere.
Copley portrays Revere in his vocation as silversmith. While the painting appears realistic and natural, both Baroque and Rococo influences are here:
Revere stares out directly at the viewer, inviting her in as Baroque figures so often do
Like other Baroque portraits, the figure is highly illuminated against a nearly black background
Copley's treatment of, and attention to, the reflections - in the teapot, the shiny wooden table, the pillow on which the teapot rests - link him to the Baroque and Rococo.
But Paul Revere is clearly a portrait by an American painter: Copley shows Revere as a natural, down-to-earth tradesman in simple clothing, absent ornamentation in fashion or studio.
Right: Paul Revere teapot, 1760-65. Silver, 5 7/8".
Paul Revere lives on as one of Copley's most famous paintings not as much because of brilliant portraiture, but, ironically, because Paul Revere is a hero of the Revolution Copley despised.