Form and Content
Elizabeth Ripley’s Copley: A Biography is like a walk through a museum. The oversized book features thirty-six black-and-white photographs of many of Copley’s major paintings. The paintings occupy the book’s right-hand pages, with captions recording the title, date of composition, canvas size, and owner or holding museum. On the left is a running narrative of Copley’s life that is laid out to correspond with the continuing parade of paintings.
The story of Copley’s life is told in a simple and unadorned fashion. Ripley employs neither headings nor chapter divisions, and the narrative flows without interruption, following Copley’s life and work chronologically. Ripley visually evokes specific scenes and quotes frequently from letters, but she rarely employs dialogue in telling the story. As the text maintains its reference to corresponding paintings and sketches, not all pages are full, and the book’s seventy-two pages move quickly. At the beginning, Ripley includes a list of illustrations, and at the end there is a bibliography and an index to names, places, and painting titles.
The focus of the biography is on Copley’s development as an artist. The narrative begins in his adolescence, with his first endeavors at painting. It then traces, in succession, his apprenticeship in Boston, his study of human anatomy, his emergence as a local portraitist, the first overseas interest in his work, his expansion to New York, his...
(The entire section is 547 words.)