Copley Critical Context - Essay

Elizabeth Ripley

Critical Context

Copley is one of a series of juvenile biographies on famous artists that came from the pen of Ripley, her other subjects including Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Auguste Rodin, Francisco de Goya, Winslow Homer, and Leonardo da Vinci. In total, she wrote seventeen such studies, in addition to three books of children’s jokes and limericks. She also served as an illustrator on six children’s books by other authors.

The bibliography of Copley attests the depth of Ripley’s research into her subject and gives a good starting point for further study. The list of fifteen works includes several art exhibition volumes, as well as general studies of American painting. The most interesting sources are The Domestic and Artistic Life of John Singleton Copley (1882) by Martha Babcock Amory, Copley’s granddaughter, and Frank William Bayley’s The Life and Works of John Singleton Copley (1915), of which Copley is a capsulized and simplified version.

The critical response to Copley was not extensive. Library Journal considered it adequate but offered no stronger praise. Horn Book, while commenting on Ripley’s underemphasis on Copley’s personal life, credited her with effectively portraying the split in his career resulting from his decision to leave the colonies, study in Italy, and establish himself in London. Ripley’s clear style and Copley’s skillful paintings make Copley a strong addition to any study of either American art or the history of the revolutionary period.