Artist. Born in Boston to Irish immigrant parents, Mary Singleton and Richard Copley. In 1748, his widowed mother married Peter Pelham, an engraver who apparently introduced his step-son to portraiture. He began to paint in about 1753, after his step-father's death, and was virtually self-taught as a portraitist. He made use of the rococo device called portrait d'apparat, portraying the subject with objects associated with his daily life, that gave his work a distinction not usually found in 18th-century American painting. His style was straightforward and realistic. In 1769 he married Susanna Clarke, the daughter the local agent for the British East India Company. The couple would have six children. He worked to expand his scope, and became one of the pioneers of pastels in American. He became well known as a portraitist, creating well known depictions of Paul Revere, Mrs Thomas Gage, and Samuel Adams among many others. He sent some of his work to England, such as 'The Boy with the Squirrel' in 1766, which established his name there. His desire to expand, coupled with his wife's family politics, led to their departure from Boston. The family traveled to Europe in 1774, and settled in London. There in 1778, he Copley painted his first major historical work, 'Watson and the Shark,' depicting a real-life event that occurred in Havana harbor; Brook Watson, a friend of the painter, who, as a boy, lost his leg to a shark while his friends struggled to rescue him in the water. His powerful historical paintings brought him acclaim with such works as 'The Death of the Earl of Chatham' (1781); the massive 'Siege of Gibraltar' (1791); 'The Red Cross Knight (1793); and 'The Victory of Lord Duncan' (1799), but, much to his disappointment, no great riches. Critical reception of his work eventually cooled, and subsequent portrait commissions thinned. From 1800, he suffered depression as his health deteriorated. In August 1815, he suffered a paralytic stroke during dinner, and succumbed four weeks later at age 77. He has long been regarded as the most influential painter and unrivaled portraitist in colonial America. Boston's Copley Square and Copley Plaza were named in his honor.
Bio by: Iola