"The glittering and velvety materials depicted in this painting—yards of expensive satin, lace finishings, strings of pearls, a sapphire earring, and gold thread—celebrate colonial wealth and taste. Likewise, the sitter's lustrous skin and hair denote her upper-class status. By 1765 Copley had become the painter of choice for discerning Bostonians, who appreciated his ability to convincingly render surface textures and to flatter his subjects with material possessions both real and imagined. Mrs. Atkinson holds a gold chain attached to a flying squirrel, a domesticated animal native to North America that symbolizes her prescribed role as wife and mother and identifies her as a colonist.
The year Copley painted Mrs. Atkinson, he sent another portrait that included a flying squirrel (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) to London's Royal Academy, where Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West praised it. Like West, Copley eventually left America for a career in London."