John Singleton Copley (1737-1815) Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr. 1765 Oil on canvas

John Singleton Copley ( 1738 - 1815)
Mrs. Theodore Atkinson Jr. (Frances Deering Wentworth)
Oil on canvas
Photography by Dwight Primiano.
Early American Art Gallery

Description of Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr. (Frances Deering Wentworth)

[♪ Antonio Vivaldi, The Four Seasons: Spring ♪]

NARRATOR: The painting that you are in front of is entitled Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr. (Frances Deering Wentworth) and was made in 1765 by an artist named John Singleton Copley using oil paint on canvas. It is 40 inches wide and 51 inches tall and depicts a portrait of a woman named Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr. who is seated in a chair beside a small circular table with her pet flying squirrel on a delicate chain. The painting is displayed in a wooden frame with a rope-like golden frame inside of it that spans from two feet above floor level to 2.5 feet over one’s head.

Mrs. Atkinson is the only figure in this painting. She sits with her knees facing the right side of the canvas although the bottom of her legs are cut off from the frame. Her torso, neck and head are slightly turned towards us. She stares confidently at us with her dark brown eyes and regal upright posture.

Mrs. Atkinson is a wealthy woman, and Copley emphasizes this by painting her wearing expensive fabrics and jewelry. She wears a formal, ball gown-like dress that is made of a fine gray satin that is slightly darker than her porcelain skin. The dress has a low neckline with puffy sleeves that end at her elbows. The neckline and sleeves of the dress are decorated with lace trim at the ends and embellished with pearls and jewels, which further emphasizes her wealth. She wears a thin brown sash with golden threads woven through it that is draped across her body from her right shoulder to below her left elbow. Additionally, she wears a luxurious emerald green fabric that curves elegantly around her body from her back to the floor. Her hair is pulled away from her face, and there is a string of pearls that appears to zig zag in the top of her hair. She also wears a string of pearls on her neck that are fastened with a large white bow at the nape of her neck. There is a deep blue sapphire earring in her right ear. We are unable to see her left ear due to the position of her face. The light source appears to be coming from the left side of the canvas, so the left side of her face is cast in shadow.

In contrast with her elaborate dress, the dark wooden chair and table set that Mrs. Atkinson sits at are very simple, although the top of the table is highly polished. She lightly grips the table with her right hand. In her left hand, she holds a golden chain that is attached to her pet flying squirrel [squirrel chattering]. The pet squirrel, which is small enough to fit in one of Mrs. Atkinson’s hands, is seated on the table as it nibbles on a small morsel.

Mrs. Atkinson sits in front of a backdrop with one large column framing her and the painting on the right side of the canvas. On the left side are several vertical lines that appear to be part of the architectural elements of the room. A red velvet curtain with golden fringe is draped diagonally from the top of the column on the right side of the canvas to the area behind her chair on the left side of the canvas.

Copley delighted painting different textures, which is especially evident in this painting in the sheen of the satin, softness of the velvet, reflectiveness on the table-top, and light glinting off the pearls and jewels.

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