Nathaniel Allen, John Singleton Copley

John Singleton Copley (American, 1738–1815)

Nathaniel Allen, 1763

Oil on canvas

Purchase, Frank C. Atherton Memorial Fund, 1976 (4376.1)

Boston's leading portrait painter before the Revolutionary War, John Singleton Copley famously captured the appearance and character of his subjects with straightforward and impartial realism. Each element in this portrait of Nathanial Allen, a successful merchant and respected citizen of Gloucester, Massachusetts, suggests the skill and confidence of the shrewd and exacting businessman. Allen is robust—an indication of his standing—and his work ethic is vigorous: on the table before him are a ledger and various documents, and he holds an open letter as if caught in the act of reading it. Far from an idealizing his sitter, Copley has rendered Allen with resolute candor—right down to the two large moles on his right cheek. In addition to Allen, Copley painted some of the most illustrious figures in American colonial history, including Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, both of whom he captured, like Allen, deeply engaged in their chosen vocations.