Woodbury Langdon


John Singleton Copley ( American, 1738 - 1815 )

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General Description

Woodbury Langdon, a rich merchant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, married Sarah Sherburne in 1765 and two years later commissioned both this portrait and a portrait of his wife from John Singleton Copley. By then the most fashionable artist in the colonies, Copley had a masterful touch with the rendering of textures. Although he was largely self-taught, under his brush oil paint became hair, flesh, and fabric, as is readily apparent in this pair of portraits. Langdon’s hat, tucked under his arm follows18th-century rules of etiquette indicating an easy gentility. John Singleton Copley's inclusion of a large ornate urn and elaborate curtain are in the tradition of English grand manner portraiture. However, his attention to the individual personality of his sitter is new for portraiture in a country that is beginning to pride itself on being "American." Copley is able to fulfill his patron's desire to be elegantly portrayed in a manner that confirms his refinement and high moral character and to capture his distinctive personality as a businessman.

Copley left Boston on the eve of the American Revolution (his father-in-law was the merchant whose shipments were destroyed during the Boston Tea Party). After travel in Italy, he settled in London, where, with encouragement from expatriate artist Benjamin West, he attained an international reputation. In the new United States, the Langdons prospered; Sarah bore ten children and Woodbury obtained high political and judicial offices.

Adapted from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 172.

  • DMA unpublished material

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