Work of Art: Sir William Pepperrell (1746-1816) and His Family
John Singleton Copley
American
1738-1815
Sir William Pepperrell (1746-1816) and His Family
1778
Oil on canvas
90 x 108 in. (228.6 x 274.3 cm)
Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina

John Singleton Copley was never content with being the finest portrait painter in the American colonies. He fortuitously quit Boston just as revolution was breaking out and settled in London. There he had to refashion his whole style of painting to appeal to aristocratic patrons. One of his first major commissions came from an old Boston acquaintance. One of the wealthiest men in New England, William Pepperrell paid dearly for his loyalty to the Crown. The family was forced into exile, but not before the tragic death of Lady Pepperrell. Thus the portrait Sir William commissioned from Copley is an elaborate fiction, the family made whole again. For the grieving widower and his children, the painting offered a comforting vision of what might have been had not war and death come knocking.

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