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John Singleton Copley was a great American painter during the late stages of Colonial America. He painted roughly 350 paintings before his death, many of which depict famous American characters. His statue sits on the northernmost edge of Copley Square, facing the Charles River, and its inscription reads: "John Singleton Copley 1738 - 1815 Boston and London American Portrait Painter Member Royal Academy of Art". The statue was created by Lewis Cohen and added to Copley Square on October 23, 2002.


  • The Copley Statue and Copley Square behind it
  • An early construction of the full sized statue.
  • Copley Square before its remastering, with Huntington Ave. bisecting it.

Who Was Copley?:

John Singleton Copley was born in Boston in 1738 to a middle class family. Throughout his life, he received no formal artistic education despite his renowned status throughout the early United States. His stepfather, Peter Pelham, had been a teacher in England who possessed an artistic background, so was able to influence Copley's future career and provide him with the tools to kick-start his artistic endeavors. By the time he was 15 Copley had released his first print mimicking his step-father's work, and would continue to learn techniques and produce pieces for people in the Boston area. Eventually his self-taught technique became recognizable in Boston, and he decided to send one of his works off to the Royal Academy of Art in London. While the scholars there did have some issues with the piece he sent, they were impressed with his potential and wanted him come to England to join the academy. He declined the invitation in favor of continuing his career at home.

While painting in Boston, he produced many notable works depicting well known American citizens before they were famous, including John Hancock (1765), Paul Revere (1768), and Mrs Thomas Boylston (1766). After the events of the Boston Tea Party, and due to local harassment for his parent's ties to England, he decided to final move to England. Upon moving overseas he joined the Royal Academy of Art and remained there until his death in 1815. By the end of his life, Copley had painted approximately 350 works of art.

History of Art Square:

In 1857 the area known as Elysian Fields was filled in to try to connect the South End with the Back Bay. This new area was designed to hold numerous art related buildings and museums, and was originally named "Art Square" as a result. Thirty one years later, the area would be a thriving hub surrounded by a fledgling Boston Public Library, Trinity Church, the Museum of Fine Arts (which has since been relocated), and other now famous buildings. There was one major issue though: the central section of the square, having already been renamed to "Copley Square" was bisected by Huntington Avenue, creating two small triangular grass areas. This divide between the two halves of Copley Square made it difficult, and sometimes hazardous, to navigate the Square as a pedestrian (due to a lack of stoplights or modern road signs). In 1893, to find a solution for this problem the Boston Society of Architects hosted a competition for best redesign of the area. The first and second place entrees were combined and proposed as the preferred redesign, and then subsequently ignored.

Copley Square Renovations:

For the next seven decades, ever proposal to redesign the square was met by opposition. The common argument against it was that Huntington Ave. provided a vital route for commerce and vehicle transportation and removing the street would slow down traffic significantly. finally, in 1965 Mayor John Collins proposed the removal of Huntington Ave. as part of his Master Plan of the City of Boston. Subsequently another competition was hosted, this time by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, to redesign Copley Square. The winner of the competition was Sasaki, Dawson, Demay Associates of Watertown, Massachusetts, and their final design successfully closed the square, and lay the groundwork for the modern Copley Square.

Unfortunately, the lack of funding for maintenance and upkeep resulted in the deterioration of the area. The newly formed Copley Square Centennial Committee conducted a third, and final, competition in 1983 which resulted in a complete redesigning of the area. The final product was a square with ample room for the public.

Addition of the Statue and Modern Copley Square:

Ten years later a sculptor named Lewis Cohen proposed his design of the Copley statue to the Friends of Copley Square organization. After its approval, he went through several different models before having a 50% scaled statue moved to Rock Tavern, NY. While there, Cohen scaled up the statue to its full size, then eventually cast the final pieces of the monument in bronze. In this form the statue consisted of many small pieces, so each piece was welded together, and filled down to create a smooth final finish. Finally, the piece was painted black to go with its pedestal. On October 23, 2002, the statue was unveiled in Copley Square, where it remains to this day.

Staiti, Paul. Copley, John Singletonunlocked (1738–1815, September 23rd 2004. Accessed October 8th 2019. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/6271.

Friends of Copley Square. Copley Square: The Story of Boston's Art Square, Friends of Copley Square. October 23rd 2002. Accessed October 8th 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20130528095315/http://friendsofcopleysquare.org/CopleySquareStory/CopleySquareStory.pdf.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Ingfbruno [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

https://web.archive.org/web/20130528095315/http://friendsofcopleysquare.org/CopleySquareStory/CopleySquareStory.pdf page 40.

https://cdn10.bostonmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/08/Copley7.jpg