John Singleton Copley grew up in mid-18th-century Boston, which maps proclaimed “the metropolis of New England.” For at least a generation, scholars accepted this description, emphasizing the cosmopolitanism of the town—a British seaport whose chattering classes called London “home”—and imagined Harvard as a seat of learning with firm claims to membership, even leadership, in a global republic of letters. Copley’s biography reveals a more complicated place, where it was easier to read than to see and easier to yearn than to achieve.
In this lecture, Jane Kamensky, professor of history at Harvard and the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, will explore the cosmopolitan provincialism of Boston on the eve of the revolution and the paradoxes of culture that made Copley’s art matter—and also made him forsake “this frosen region.”
Jane Kamensky is the author of the recent biography A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley.
This lecture is offered in conjunction with the special exhibition The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820 (May 19–December 31, 2017). Major support for the exhibition has been provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation.