A portrait of Boston Society Before he made his name in Britain, John Singleton Copley was a highly successful portrait painter in up-and-coming Boston. By Celina Fox twenty or so years as a portrait painter in Boston, headed to Europe and enjoyed even greater success for twice as long in London. Copley’s Boston had a population of just 16,000, compared with more than half a million today. But it does not take long to discover that the underlying ethos of trade and commerce, derived from the city’s position on the eastern seaboard, has changed little, and its historical character is still apparent. Squeezed between the high-rise office blocks of the business district are the churches where Copley’s sitters worshipped and the burial grounds in which they now lie. Beacon Hill is as fine a quarter of plain redbrick houses as may be found anywhere outside Georgian Dublin. Faneuil Hall, first built in 1740, stands as a memorial to mercantile power. And the Freedom Trail traces the landmarks connected with the War of Independence, which broke out the year after Copley left for Europe. Copley’s parents were Irish and his father ran a tobacco shop on the Long Wharf, which extended half a mile into Boston harbour.
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