John Singleton Copley painted the portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin (Sarah Morris) in 1773, commissioned by the couple to convey their political beliefs as patriots in colonial America. The painting depicts the couple together, which was unusual for that time when separate portraits of husbands and wives were favored. Mifflin was a prosperous merchant who became a major general in the Continental Army.
The portrait is crafted to represent a plain-spoken American sensibility while subtly conveying messages about the subjects’ status and values. The attire worn by Thomas and Sarah reflects their wealth, but they are depicted casually sitting at home, suggesting that they are humble despite their affluence. Copley included symbols such as books on the table to signify intellectualism and patriotism.
The recent restoration of the painting by conservators at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has revitalized its beauty, allowing viewers to appreciate Copley’s attention to detail even more fully. By portraying Mr. And Mrs. Thomas Mifflin as they looked and interacted with each other in life while also visually conveying important cultural ideas, John Singleton Copley created an artwork that is both excellent portraiture and highly symbolic representation of American identity during colonial times – one that tells us much about our earliest revolutionary forebears!