Artist: John Singleton Copley
Title: Portrait of Miles Sherbrook
Oil on canvas
Overall: 49 1/2 x 39 in. (125.7 x 99.1 cm)
Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. in memory of his Grandparents, Anna-Maria Breymann and Henry Chrysler
What can we say about this man based on his clothes and the objects we see in the painting?
Would you think of this portrait differently if he were looking directly at you? Why? Why do you think the artist chose to have his sitter looking away from the viewer?
John Singleton Copley was one of the most distinguished colonial artists of his time, painting portraits of influential New England merchants, clergymen, and lawyers with craftsman-like polish and clarity of design. In 1771, Copley briefly interrupted his Boston practice with a seven-month visit to New York, having secured the names of several prominent New Yorkers to sit for him. On his list was the merchant Miles Sherbrook, who agreed to have his likeness painted. Copley captures the quiet strength of an influential businessman at the height of his days. Sherbrook is painted in simple attire, without a wig, seated at a table. Copley adds a quill pen and letter to indicate Sherbrook’s profession, and warmly lights his subject against a dark setting.
“Royalist” described anyone upholding the right of the British king, thereby siding with England before and during the American Revolutionary War. Miles Sherbrook was a royalist who was condemned, had his property seized, and was banished from his home state of New York. In 1787, well after the war, he was allowed to return though he never recouped his fortune before he died in 1805. A royalist as well, Copley’s father-in-law, Richard Clark, was the merchant to whom the tea that provoked the Boston Tea Party was to be delivered. Revolutionaries boarded three ships carrying the taxed tea and destroyed the shipment by throwing it into Boston Harbor. Fearing the coming violence, Copley moved his family to London to take refuge from war. He never returned to America, but continued to paint the wealthy elite of Britain.
Does knowing about the life of the sitter change your perception of the painting? How? Why?
How might the portrait of Miles Sherbrook look if it were painted after the American Revolutionary War?