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24 July 2018The Americans are Coming : John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West
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The Americans are Coming : John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West Martin Heard Tuesday 24 July 2018

This talk introduces painting in the American colonies during the second half of the 18C.  Two of the key artists in the development of English 18C and early 19C history painting were the Americans Benjamin West (1738-1820) and John Singleton Copley (1738–1815).  They were important founding members of the Royal Academy (in West’s case he succeeded Joshua Reynolds as the second and fourth President).

West was the first American artist to gain an international reputation - he initially painted portraits in 1750s Pennsylvania and New York  His most famous painting, a modern-dress history painting, caused a sensation when shown at the Royal Academy in 1771.  He was an important mentor and teacher to younger English and American artists including John Constable and Gilbert Stuart.  His impact on the development and achievements of post-Revolutionary American painting was profound.

John Singleton Copley was born in Boston, Massachusetts.  By the early 1760s he emerged as New England's best portraitist:  his startling likenesses of persons and objects in oil painting, pastels, and miniatures eclipsed anything that had been executed by his predecessors.  Copley left America in 1774 and settled in London where, while running a busy portrait studio, he produced ambitious history paintings.  The most successful of these take subjects from contemporary events such as The Death of Major Peirson of 1783 and the Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar. 

Despite having left America to escape the War of Independence, Copley Square in Boston is named after him.

Reading: “American adversaries: West and Copley in a transatlantic world” Emily Ballew Neff with Kaylin H. Weber, Houston Museum of Fine Arts 2013 / “Five Early American Painters: Benjamin West, John Singleton Copley, Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull”, Donald Braidin, (Meredith Press 1969).

Martin Heard previously talked to us in 2015 about four women impressionist painters Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzales, Berthe Morrisot and Marie Braquemond.

He studied the History of Art and afterwards worked in the editorial department of a fine art publishing company.  His later career gave him the opportunity to work and live for several years in Europe and North America.  He now devotes his time to researching mainly 18C English art and late 19C French art and architecture.