Cameos of Art Museums' Collections of Historic American Art


 

Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas, Texas

(214) 922-1200

 

 

Colonial Portraits by Copley

 

A pair of portraits painted by John Singleton Copley in 1767 have joined the collection of the DMA. They are on view with colonial paintings and decorative arts in the Museum's American collection on the fourth floor in the Nancy and Jake L. Hamon Building.

The portraits of Woodbury Langdon and Sarah Sherburne Langdon, thought to be the last unbroken pair of portraits by Copley still in private hands, were purchased by The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., from the estate of Helen Elizabeth Langdon Foster, a descendant of the sitters.

"Once again, the Museum is the beneficiary of the generosity and far-sightedness of Margaret McDermott and the McDermott Art Fund," said Jay Gates, Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. "The DMA now displays a choice collection of colonial American paintings, capped by the Art Fund's purchase of these outstanding Copley portraits."

"Copley has long been at the top of my list for major acquisitions for the DMA's American art collection," said DMA Consulting Curator of American Art Eleanor Jones Harvey. "The Langdon portraits represent the best colonial American artist during his best decade. I am delighted to welcome these paintings to the DMA's galleries and deeply grateful to Margaret McDermott and the McDermott Art Fund trustees for their willingness to make such a significant purchase on behalf of the Museum."

The Langdon portraits were included in the recent exhibition of paintings by Copley organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Considered by Copley scholars to be among the finest American portraits by the artist, they were painted the year before his masterpiece, Paul Revere, which is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Copley emerged as the leading portrait painter in Boston during the colonial period. Primarily self-taught, he benefited from his early work in mezzotints with his stepfather, Peter Pelham, and from proximity to the artist John Smibert, whose studio was located only a few blocks away. The decade of the 1760s represents Copley's arrival at a mature style, with an emphasis on sumptuous fabrics and lifelike fleshtones. Between 1765 and 1774, when Copley created the best of his American portraits, his paintings were more accomplished than any of the works by other artists that he could have seen in Boston or New York.

"Woodbury Langdon was among the youngest and the wealthiest of the merchants in Portsmouth, New Hampshire," said Ms. Harvey. "The same age as Copley, Langdon had married Sarah Sherburne when she was 16, in 1765. Two years later, after building and furnishing a palatial home, the couple traveled to Boston to have Copley paint their portraits.

"Described as 'remarkably goodlooking,' Langdon was also considered to be shrewd, haughty, and sarcastic. Sarah Langdon, said to be 'one of the fairest creatures who ever stepped out of a Portsmouth doorway,' projects a warmth and directness found in Copley's most accomplished work," Harvey said.

The Copley portraits join two other pairs of colonial-era portraits in the DMA's collection: Mr. and Mrs. John Ashley, Esq., by Gilbert Stuart, and Edward Nightingale, Esq. and his wife, Eleanor Nightingale, by John Simbert. The collection also includes important portraits by Jeremiah Theus, Charles Willson Peale, Ralph Earl, and Thomas Sully. The DMA plans an exhibition later this year focusing on colonial paintings in the Museum's permanent collection.

Discussing the Copley portraits, Dr. Charles L. Venable, DMA Chief Curator and Associate Director for Collections and Exhibitions, said, "Within the larger contest of the DMA's outstanding collection of colonial decorative arts, these paintings are commensurate in importance and beauty with the best objects on display. The presence of such fine paintings by Copley helps to 'people' our colonial galleries, breathing life into the furniture, silver, and ceramics that once belonged to individuals like the Langdons," Dr. Venable said.

"The DMA is truly fortunate to have in Margaret McDermott and the trustees of the McDermott Art Fund supporters who understand just how important this purchase is to the Museum, Dallas, and indeed, Texas as a whole, should be profoundly grateful for their efforts to acquire these masterworks."

 

John Singleton Copley, Woodbury Langdon, 1767

 

 

 

John Singleton Copley, Mrs. Woodbury Langdon , 1767

 

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.


This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 11/8/11

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