JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY (1738-1815), dated 1757
JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY (1738-1815), dated 1757

Portrait of James Tilley (1707-1765)

JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY (1738-1815), dated 1757
Portrait of James Tilley (1707-1765)
signed and dated 'I.S. Copley pinx. 1757' (center left)
oil on copper
13¾ x 10½ in.
William Coleman (1766-1829)
Miss Budd, sister-in-law
James Gray, nephew
Mrs. Louisa V. Voorhis
Charles Henry Hart, New York, 1917
M. Knoedler & Co., New York
Thomas B. Clarke, New York, 1919
American Art Association, Sale of Early American Portraits Collected by Mr. Thomas B. Clarke, The Plaza Hotel, New York, January 7, 1919, no. 28
Mr. Meeker, Chicago
Hiram Burlingham, New York
Purchased from American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, Inc., American Historical Portraits, Property of the Estate of the Late Hiram Burlingham, New York, January 11, 1934, no. 54
Theodore Bolton and Harry Lorin Binsse, "John Singleton Copley: Probably the Greatest American Portrait Painter, Here for the First Time Appraised As an Artist in Relation to His Contemporaries," The Antiquarian 15 (December 1930), p. 77.
Malcom Vaughan, "The Early American Tradition," Creative Art (November 1931), p. 414.
Barbara Neville Parker and Anne Bolling Wheeler, John Singleton Copley: American Portraits in Oil, Pastel, and Miniature (Boston, 1938), p. 248.
Theodore Sizer, The Works of Colonel John Trumbull (New Haven, 1950), p. 41 (listed as Alexander Moore).
Jules David Prown, John Singleton Copley, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA, 1966), p. 241.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Gallery of National Portraiture, 1926 (no. 142 in accompanying catalogue).

Lot Essay

John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) became colonial America's preeminent portrait painter. Before departing for London in 1774, he excelled at painting likenesses in both his native Boston and New York. Copley's ability to portray sitters within the context of their social prominence, or that which they hoped to project, was a skill apparent even in the earliest days of his career.

Signed I.S. Copley pinx. 1757 in the shadow of the desk's skirt, this portrait of James Tilley was painted by Copley at the young age of nineteen. Born in 1707, Tilley inherited a rope walk from his uncle, William Tilley, in 1717, that was located just south of Milk Street in Boston. It is thought to be this rope walk depicted in the portrait of a dapper James Tilley posed against a writing desk with paper in hand, possibly a bill of sale, as a small dog rests nearby and a harbor scene is displayed in the background. While it is known that Tilley relocated to New London, Connecticut where he would ultimately die in debt in 1765, it is obvious from Copley's painting that just a few years prior, Tilley had fashioned himself as a prominent businessman of a distinguished class in his respective field (American Art Association, Sale of Early American Portraits Collected by Mr. Thomas B. Clarke, The Plaza Hotel, New York, January 7, 1919, no. 28; letter, Charles Henry Hart to Mr. Palmer, dated January 1st, 1917, Blair Collection Papers).

Although this work was attributed to Trumbull by Theodore Sizer in 1950 (see literature above), this work is cited as Copley's portrait of James Tilley in other published materials and Mrs. Blair was frequently asked to lend the painting for exhibition (letters, Harry B. Wehle, Curator, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 9, 1939 to Mrs. Blair, and G.H. Edgell, Director, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to Mrs. Blair, December 9, 1937, Blair Collection Papers).

More from Property From the Collection of Mrs. J. Insley Blair

View All
View All