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American Paintings and Sculpture
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext2 of 2
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
Artist: John Singleton Copley, American, 1738–1815
Maker, attributed to (case): Paul Revere, American, 1735–1818
Subject: Reverend Samuel Fayerweather, American, 1725–1781

Reverend Samuel Fayerweather (1725-1781), M.A. (Hon.) 1753

probably 1760/61

Oil on gold-leafed copper

3 × 2 1/2 in. (7.6 × 6.4 cm)
Mabel Brady Garvan Collection
In his early miniatures, John Singleton Copley, the foremost portraitist of the colonial period, experimented with oil on ivory and oil on copper, rather than the watercolor on ivory popular in England and adopted by colonial American artists Benjamin West and Charles Willson Peale. Perhaps examples of the fashionable English style were unavailable to him in Boston around 1755, when he began painting miniatures at the age of seventeen. Copley probably used as models seventeenth-century oil-on-copper miniatures that the colonists had brought to New England as family heirlooms. Patrons’ demands for familiar works combined with practical considerations, for Copley’s choice of medium benefited from both his experience with oils, painting easel portraits, and the availability of metal plates for supports from his late stepfather Peter Pelham’s printing studio. In fact, tool marks indicate that Copley painted this portrait of the Reverend Samuel Fayerweather on a used copper printing plate. Probably to infuse the portrait with luminosity, the artist painted on a continuous layer of gold leaf adhered to the copper support. Here, gold shines through the translucent red glaze around the reverend’s eyes. Even the silver frame, possibly made by Paul Revere, had originally been gold-washed or plated, extending the sense of pure light to the entire object. The Reverend Samuel Fayerweather, who rose to the position of Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.) missionary at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in North Kingston, Rhode Island, was the son of Bostonians Hannah Waldo and Thomas Fayerweather. Samuel Fayerweather’s aunt, Grizzel Oliver, and cousin, Abigail Rogers, were also painted in miniature by Copley. Fayerweather attended Harvard University, and his tutor wrote that “I perceive Fairweather [sic] is weak and in danger of Conceit upon little foundation.” After graduation, Fayerweather spent a few years in New England as a Congregationalist itinerant preacher and some months in Georgia and South Carolina. During this time, he took an honorary M.A. at Yale University. Fayerweather loved pageantry and had trouble finding a church among the sober New England congregations that would ordain him as their pastor. In 1755 the Episcopal church in Taunton, Massachusetts, asked him to be their minister if he would journey to England and take orders in the Church of England. He arrived there in December and was ordained. Proceeding to Oxford, he was thrilled to receive an honorary M.A. Fayerweather also received an honorary M.A. from Cambridge University. The Taunton church’s offer, however, did not come to pass and, upon returning to America, Fayerweather eventually accepted an appointment at a parish in South Carolina. In 1760 he became minister of Saint Paul’s in North Kingston. Copley’s miniature was probably commissioned to commemorate either this event or Fayerweather’s December 1761 sermon preached before Governor Francis Bernard at King’s Chapel in Boston—both milestones in the minister’s career. Fayerweather appears in his Oxford regalia—with cap and pink hood signifying the M.A. degree—to celebrate additionally his earlier ceremonial triumph. After three years at Saint Paul’s, the minister married Abigail (Hazard) Bours in 1763, but the couple had no children. In Rhode Island, Fayerweather often claimed that he was ill to avoid preaching to his congregation. Nonetheless, he traveled to Massachusetts to preach to Episcopal congregations. A contemporary described Fayerweather as “as poor a specimen as they could have found to send out.” He irritated many of his contemporaries by punning in the pulpit, and he “never made a simple statement when he had time to work up a flowery circumlocution.” In 1774 Fayerweather preached the annual sermon at the convention of New England Episcopalians at King’s Chapel in Boston, a highlight of his career. He resigned his post at Saint Paul’s in 1774 because he refused to stop saying prayers to the king. He eventually took an oath of allegiance to the United States, and the S.P.G. struck his name from their rolls in response. He died in 1781.
Made in United States
Not on view
18th century

The sitter, until 1781; to his executor, Matthew Robinson, until October 1795; sold at auction with Robinson's property, c. 1795; whereabouts unconfirmed until 1846, when in possession of family of William Thaddeus Harris (1826-1854), Cambridge, Mass; to his brother, Edward D. Harris, Cambridge, Mass., and Yonkers, N. Y., 1873-1915; to his daughter, Mrs. W. R. Wilson (Katherine Brattle Harris), Amityville, L. I., 1938; Childs Gallery, Boston, Mass., 1948


Theresa Fairbanks-Harris, “Gold Discovered: John Singleton Copley’s Portrait Miniatures on Copper,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (1999): 74, fig. 1.

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.