Portrait of a Boy

John Singleton Copleyc. 1758-1760

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Houston, United States

Characterized by bold color, theatrical lighting, and attention to fine detail, this portrait beautifully conveys the hallmarks of John Singleton Copley's early style. The artist surrounds the jaunty boy with the signs of privilege, wealth, and social standing expected of aristocratic 18th-century portraiture.

The identity of the boy is unknown, but such a relatively large, full-length portrait indicates that he was probably the first-born son and heir of a wealthy and socially ambitious family. His posture suggests nonchalance and easy confidence, esteemed characteristics of behavior endorsed by etiquette books of the period. Reinforcing the refined tone is the dapper rose pinned to the boy's jacket, a prop that is unique in Copley's oeuvre. The portrait's profusion of other props—a battledore and shuttlecock, a braid-trimmed tricorn hat tossed to the ground, a marble or stone architectural element that existed not in the colonies but probably in a mezzotint source of Continental or English portraits—and its complex landscape details point to a considerable effort on the part of Copley to impress his patrons with his knowledge of European prototypes and to flatter the boy's family.


  • Title: Portrait of a Boy
  • Creator: John Singleton Copley
  • Creator Lifespan: 1738 - 1815
  • Creator Nationality: American
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Date Created: c. 1758-1760
  • Physical Dimensions: w92.1 x h123.4 cm (unframed)
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: MFAH
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Credit Line: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg

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