Happy Independence Day: Celebrating American Portraiture

With the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776 came the necessity to create a visual history for the new country. John Singleton Copley (1738 -1815) was an Irish-American painter whose portraits of prominent members of Colonial America and an embryonic nation were done in the Grand Manner style of Britain. His painting of Bostonian Nicolas Boylston shows the wealthy merchant wearing a silk damask banyan or robe and negligé cap instead of a wig reflecting the taste in Orientalism. Ironically American painter John Singer Sargent (1856 -1925) was born in Florence, Italy to expatriate Americans and did not come to the United States until he was twenty. His work reflects his exposure to continental European art and his subjects were not only from society but also the art world and everyday life. His portrait of Dr. Samuel Jean Pozzi portrays the French surgeon in a blood red dressing gown against a crimson background. Robert Henri (1865 -1929) was a member of New York's Ashcan School, a realistic art movement of the early twentieth century. His life size painting Ruth St. Denis in the Peacock Dance captures the American modern dance pioneer and her interest in exotic mysticism.