The acclaimed artist John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) was a teenager when he painted this portrait of Colonel Thomas Marshall of Boston around 1755. Copley was the portraitist of choice for Boston’s wealthy merchant society until his departure for England in 1774. In London, he continued to paint and exhibit both portraiture and historical paintings, and he became a member of the Royal Academy. He never returned to America and died in 1815 in London.
This image of Col. Marshall (1719–1800) seems spare when compared with Copley’s later dazzling portraiture. Yet the young artist succeeded in portraying the status and taste of Marshall. Seated in a fashionable chair, Marshall’s brown velvet suit and snowy shirt ruffles denote a gentleman of substance. Marshall was a tailor, but as a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts since 1761, he was named a colonel before the Revolutionary War. As a prominent Boston citizen, he was active in civic and government affairs, and served as a selectman from 1772–1776. Copley also painted the portrait of Marshall’s second wife, Lucy Allen Marshall, daughter of a wealthy Gloucester merchant.
The painting is a gift of Mrs. Franklin E. Campbell.
Volume 144, Number 1, January/February 2010, Page 17
Photography by Mark Gulezian/Quicksilver