American Paintings and Sculpture
Artist: John Singleton Copley, American, 1738–1815

Isaac Smith (1719–1787)

1769

Oil on canvas in original gilded white-pine frame

127.3 x 101.9 cm (50 1/8 x 40 1/8 in.)
Gift of Maitland F. Griggs, B.A. 1896, L.H.D. 1938
1941.73

John Singleton Copley's portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Smith, set in gilt frames that only the richest Bostonians could afford, capture the image of wealthy Americans on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Isaac Smith, the uncle of Abigail Adams, and thus by marriage of Founding Father John Adams, was a successful Boston merchant who sold wine and other imported goods. Wearing a powdered wig and an elegant plum-colored suit with gold buttons, he sits at a worktable, preoccupied with the papers at hand. Elizabeth Smith gazes directly out at the viewer. She holds grapes in her lap, perhaps a subtle allusion to her husband's business. Luxury is evident everywhere, from the armchair upholstered in yellow damask, to the pearls in her hair and around her neck and the rich silk of her dress and robe. Copley provided his sitters with images that are simultaneously realistic and idealized---recording not only how the Smiths actually looked but also the way in which they wanted to be perceived.

Culture: 
American
Period: 
18th century
Classification: 
Paintings
Status: 
On view
Bibliography: 

Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001), 84, 86, fig. 77a.

Margaretta M. Lovell, Art in a Season of Revolution: Painters, Artisans, and Patrons in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 148, fig. 55.

Helen A. Cooper et al., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2008), 2, 21, 64, 199–200, no. 105, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.

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