John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Paul Revere, painted circa 1768-70, is a noteworthy piece of American colonial art. Copley was known for painting religious leaders and wealthy merchants, but he also documented the building of the young American nation by creating portraits of important figures such as Revere. The portrait itself is unprecedented in colonial painting as it depicts Revere in casual clothing with a teapot in hand, looking directly at the viewer.
Revere was famous for his silver craftsmanship and wartime efforts during the American Revolution. Although not an ordained minister or wealthy merchant, he was a significant figure during this time period. Copley’s decision to document him may have marked a shift towards valuing individual accomplishments rather than social status or religious position.
Copley painted two portraits of Revere with one surviving today painted by him and another by Gilbert Stuart in 1813. The former depicts him sitting at his craftsman table wearing a dark vest and ruffled white shirt. It solidified both men’s connection to the new nation that they helped build while cementing Copley’s place in American historical iconography.