Thomas Amory II

In addition to the British naval officer, Capt. Linzee, there was another famous Tory in Susannah Amory’s family, her other grandfather, Thomas Amory II. Below is material documenting his portrait, produced by Copley.

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Copley's Thomas Amory II

Artist
John Singleton Copley (American, 1738 -1815)

Title
Thomas Amory II

date
c. 1770-1772

medium
oil on canvas

Great portrait painters throughout history have used various techniques to capture the appearance and personality of their subjects. Some, such as Anthony Van Dyck or John Singer Sargent, employed rich, bold colors freely brushed in expressive strokes. Others opted for a more restrained approach, in which brushwork was less obvious, line was more important in describing contours, and colors were more muted. Copley’s somber yet grand portrait of Boston merchant Thomas Amory II is of the latter type, and it beautifully demonstrates how much can be conveyed through so little overt display of artifice.

Born in Boston, Copley had by the early 1760s established himself as the preeminent Colonial portrait painter. Before relocating to London in 1775, Copley painted dozens of portraits of New Englanders and New Yorkers. Some, like Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, were destined for historical fame, but most of Copley’s sitters were ordinary citizens, men, women, and children from the merchant and business classes. Sizable fortunes were being amassed in the prosperous years before the American Revolution, and having one’s portrait painted by Copley, like buying a fine piece of furniture or building a grand new house, was an unmistakable indicator of wealth and social prestige. For a man like Thomas Amory II, no other artist but Copley could possibly be considered.

Amory, the son of a successful merchant and distiller of rum and turpentine, attended Harvard and initially intended to enter the ministry. However, he acceded to his mother’s wish that he take over the family business and went on to run it with considerable acumen. In 1764 he married his cousin Elizabeth Coffin, daughter of a competing distiller, thus uniting his own family fortunes with those of hers. At the time Copley painted him, Amory was about fifty years old. Wearing a brown coat and simple white shirt, Amory is posed against a dark background, leaning against the base of a large column, as if he has paused for a moment on one of the walks he was known to enjoy regularly. Gazing thoughtfully off to his left, he is illuminated by a strong light that draws the viewer’s attention to his ungloved left hand and to his head. We are left with the impression of a sympathetic, dignified man who has surely attained a measure of wisdom from life’s experiences.

Although he was a staunch Loyalist who once faced down an angry mob gathered outside his house, Amory never actively opposed the quest for independence. He remained in Boston during the war and kept his business interests secure, but when the Colonials retook the city he was denounced and sent for two months’ detention in Waltham, Massachusetts. Undaunted, Amory then returned and resumed his work; following his death in 1784 his children were comfortably provided for. His portrait remained in the family’s possession for more than two centuries before it was acquired by the Corcoran in 1989.

Franklin Kelly,

Curator of American and British Paintings

National Gallery of Art, Washington

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