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The American Revolution happened decades before the invention of the camera so our knowledge what things looked like at the time of our Nation’s birth comes exclusively from written descriptions and the pens and brushes of a handful of artists working in “the colonies” at the time. One such was John Singleton Copely, America’s premier portrait painter in the years leading up to the war and perhaps the only reason we have likenesses of many of the Founders to look back on today.

The Boston-born Copley started painting in the 1750s, giving him plenty of time to perfect his craft before things got really important. This is good because he early work is pretty dreadful; stiff and flat and distorted. This isn’t really surprising because there were very few really good painters in the New World at the time and most of those were trained in Europe.

Paul Revere (John Singleton Copley, 1768 – 1770)

Despite his imprint on American history, Copley was no patriot. Is father-in-law was an agent of the East India Company and his brother-in-law was “‘credited” with provoking the Boston Tea Party. He vehemently defended the Crown in the run-up to the revolution and fled to England in 1774, when things started getting really hostile. He never returned to his native land.

Samuel Adams (John Singleton Copley, 1768 – 1770)

Loyalist that he was, he set his feelings aside and continued to paint leaders of the new America when they visited England. Through his eyes, we gratefully receive some insights on the birth of our country all those years ago. Tomorrow, when you celebrate America’s independence, than John Singleton Copley for letting you look into the eyes of those who risked all to place this country in our hands and who nurtured it in its infancy.

John Quincy Adams (1796)





  1. Perhaps there’s an empty coffin somewhere. Jack Black – Vampire

  2. Tell me Paul Revere doesn’t look like Jack Black. Go on. Tell me.

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