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Collection Spotlight

John Singleton Copley, Mary Elizabeth Martin

John Singleton Copley
Mary Elizabeth Martin, 1771
oil on canvas
museum purchase

In 1771, the Bostonian artist John Singleton Copley (1738–1815), who had earned a reputation as one of the leading portraitists of the American colonies, traveled to New York to complete commissioned portraits of the city’s social elite. While there, Copley journeyed to Rock Hall in Lawrence, Long Island to paint the Addison’s portrait of Mary Elizabeth Martin, the eldest of eight children of Josiah Martin, the Colonel Governor of North Carolina. In this portrait, one of only a handful of paintings of children executed by Copley, the elegantly gowned nine-year-old Mary Elizabeth, framed by classical columns, is frozen in mid-stride as she plays with an English Spaniel dog, the favored pet of English royalty. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War a few years later, the Martin family returned permanently to England, as did Copley where he devoted himself to stately portraits and history paintings in the English manner.

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