John Singleton Copley achieved his reputation as the greatest portraitist of the colonial era through his ability to create pleasing likenesses of Boston's elite. This portrait of Abigail Pickman Gardiner (1733–1780), wife of the wealthy landowner and physician Sylvester Gardiner, demonstrates Copley's talent for capturing both the factual appearance (note, in particular, his naturalistic handling of the hands and drapery folds) and the social pretensions of his sitter. Mrs. Gardiner wears an exotic, Turkish-inspired dress that was then at the height of English fashion. Her elegant costume, grand pose, and substantial figure convey the Gardiners' social station and affluence. (In the eighteenth century, extra body weight was a sign of being able to afford a plentiful diet.) Although Copley painted individuals of all political persuasions, his ties to Boston's pro-British Loyalists, including the Gardiners, created problems for him during the tense period preceding the Revolutionary War. Copley fled the city in 1774 for London; the Gardiners left in 1776.
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John Singleton Copley (American, 1738-1815). Mrs. Sylvester Gardiner, née Abigail Pickman, formerly Mrs. William Eppes, ca. 1772. Oil on canvas, 50 3/8 x 40 in. (128 x 101.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 65.60