Lot 4
  • 4

John Singleton Copley 1738-1815

bidding is closed


  • John Singleton Copley
  • Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr. (Francis Deering Wentworth)

  • signed John S. Copley and dated Pinx 1765, l.r.
  • oil on canvas


Theodore Atkinson, Jr. (1737-1769) (husband of the sitter), Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Theodore Atkinson, Sr., (1697-1779) (his father), Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 1769
(probably) William King Atkinson (1765-1838) (his nephew), Dover, New Hampshire, 1779
Francis Atkinson Freeman (1797-circa 1878)(his daughter), Dover, New Hamshire, 1838
John Fischer Sheafe (as agent for James Lenox, his brother-in-law), 1872 (acquired from the above)
James Lenox (1800-1880), New York, 1872
Gift to the present owner, 1876


New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Catalogue of Colonial Portraits, 1911, pp. 34-36
Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, Catalogue of a Century of Progress Exhibition, 1934, no. 4, p. 369, illustrated pl. LIII
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Paintings of John Singleton Copley, 1936-37, no. 13, illustrated
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, John Singleton Copley, 1938, no. 7
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Diamond Jubilee Exhibition, 1950-51, no. 60
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, John Singleton Copley, September 1965-March 1966, no. 24, pp. 42, 136, illustrated p. 40
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, American Portraits by John Singleton Copley, December 1975-January 1976, illustrated in color as frontispiece


Augustus Thorndike Perkins, A Sketch of the Life and a List of Some of the Works of John Singleton Copley, Boston, Massachusetts, 1873, p. 74
Lenox Library, A Guide to Paintings and Sculpture Exhibited to the Public, New York, 1878, no. 91 (as Lady Frances Deering Wentworth)
J. Wentworth, Wentworth Genealogy, Boston, Massachusetts, 1878, illustrated opposite p. 548
Scribner's Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine for the People, 1881, p. 768, illustrated
Martha Babcock Amory, The Domestic and Artistic Life of John Singleton Copley, Boston, Massachusetts, 1882, pp. 459-60
The New York Public Library, Catalogue of Paintings in the Lenox Gallery, New York, 1897, no. 82 (as Lady Frances Deering Wentworth)
Masters in Art, vol. 5, 1904, p. 502, illustrated pl. IX
Handbook to The New York Public Library: Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations, New York, 1905, p. 33
Frank W. Bayley, The Life and Works of John Singleton Copley, Boston, Massachusetts, 1915, pp. 262-63
Theodore Bolton and Harry Lorin Binesse, "John Singleton Copley: Appraised as an artist in relation to his contemporaries with checklist of portraits in oil," Antiquarian, December 1920, p. 76
Lawrence Shaw Mayo, John Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1921, p. 548, illustrated
Old Time New England, vol. 13, 1922, p. 64
Mary Cochrane Rogers, Glimpses of an Old Social Capitol, Boston, Massachusetts, 1923, p. 8, illustrated
George Francis Dow, The Arts and Crafts in New England, 1704-1775, Topsfield, Massachusetts, 1927, p. 6, illustrated
Cuthbert Lee, Early American Portrait Painters, New Haven, Connecticut, 1929, p. 68, illustrated
Edward Warwick and Harry Pitz, Early American Costume, New York, 1929, p. 264, illustrated
E. Alfred Jones, The Loyalists of Massachusetts, Their Memorials, Petitions and Claims, London, England, 1930, p. 293, illustrated
The Art Institute of Chicago Bulletin, April 1934, p. 38
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New York, December 1936, pp. 251-58, illustrated p. 220
American Magazine of Art, vol. 30, February 1937, pp. 111-12, illustrated
Charles H. Caffin, The Story of American Painting, Garden City, NY 1937, pp. 16-18, illustrated p. 14 (as Portrait of Lady Wentworth)
Barbara N. Parker and Anne Bolling Wheeler, John Singleton Copley, American Portraits, Boston, Massachusetts, 1938, pp. 27-28, illustrated pl. 58 
Frank W. Bayley, Five Colonial Artists, Boston, Massachusetts, 1939, p. 289, illustrated
Virgil Barker, "Copley's American Portraits", Art, May 1950, pp. 82-88
Waldron Phoenix Belknap, American Colonial Painting, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1959, p. 292
Jules David Prown, John Singleton Copley in America 1738-1774, vol. 1, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1966, pp. 45, 207, illustrated pl. 62
Robert Plate, John Singleton Copley, New York, 1969, illustrated
Barbara Novak, American Painting of the 19th Century, New York, 1969, illustrated p. 16
Jere R. Daniell, Experiment in Republicanism: New Hampshire Politics and the American Revolution, 1741-1794, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1970, illustrated p. 90 (as Lady Frances Wentworth)
Alfred Victor Frankenstein, "The World of Copley 1738-1815,"  New York Time-Life, 1970, p. 32
Philip Young, Revolutionary Ladies, New York, 1975
Paul Wilderson, "John Wentworth," New Hampshire Profiles, March 1976, illustrated p. 87
John Singleton Copley in America, Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts and traveling, 1995, pp. 10, 64, 178, 180, 218, 233, illustrated p, 178, fig. 163

Catalogue Note

In 1765, Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr., a young wife of nineteen, sat for John Singleton Copley, considered to be the finest portraitist in the American Colonies.  The resulting portrait, Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr. (Frances Deering Wentworth) not only embodies the social sophistication and fashionable elegance to which many of Copley’s sitters aspired, but also presents an astute portrayal of a young woman in full command of her obvious charms.  Her complicated and dynamic personality landed her at the center of a love triangle between two cousins which scandalized New Hampshire society.  Frances’ colorful life was not only the source of much gossip in her day, but in fact became the subject of the 1875 poem Lady Wentworth by Nora Perry and The Governor’s Lady by Thomas Raddall, a fictional account based on her life written in 1960. 

Frances Deering Wentworth was born in 1745 into wealth and privilege.  The daughter of a prominent merchant, Samuel Wentworth, and niece of the Governor of New Hampshire, Benning Wentworth, Frances was a member of the Boston elite.   Known for her beauty and feminine wiles, Frances was besotted at an early age with John Wentworth (figure 1), her first cousin and Benning’s nephew.  Following an undergraduate and master’s degree at Harvard, John joined his father in the merchant trade in Boston but after five years, he was sent to London to establish valuable family contacts abroad.  Frances was heartbroken at the news of his impending departure and in frustration broke off their alleged engagement.   Instead, she turned her attentions towards another first cousin, Theodore Atkinson, Jr. (figure 2), who had been in love with Frances since she was thirteen.  Theodore, from a prominent Portsmouth, New Hampshire family, was also an heir to a healthy fortune.  Although her affections lay elsewhere, Frances accepted Theodore’s proposal and the two were married when she was 17 on May 13, 1762.  Following their wedding, the young couple moved into the Atkinson home in Portsmouth with Theodore’s father.  Theodore Jr. was anointed Secretary of the Province (a title he inherited from Theodore Sr.) the very same year.  Over the next few years, the couple continued to live in Portsmouth but Theodore’s health soon began to deteriorate due to consumption and he spent increasing amounts of time bedridden.

In 1767, after four years in London, John Wentworth returned to New Hampshire with the newly appointed titles of Governor of New Hampshire, acting as successor to his uncle Benning, and Surveyor of the King’s Woods in North America.  His time in London had been well spent and the bachelor was welcomed home with much fanfare.  John became a frequent visitor to the Atkinson home despite Theodore’s condition.  Nineteenth century historian Charles Brewster writes, “[Frances’] early affection for him remained unabated, and the Governor frequently honored his uncle and cousin by a social call at this old mansion.  At this time there was no building between Court and Pleasant streets to obstruct the sight between the houses of the Governor and Secretary Atkinson, and gossips used to say that signals from one another were passed” (Brewster's Rambles, seacoastnh.com). 

Theodore finally died on October 28th, 1769. John Wentworth ordered an elaborate funeral, conducted by the Reverend Arthur Browne and Theodore was buried in the family tomb at the Episcopal Church, his ceremony marked by a procession and guns fired from both land and sea.  A scant ten days later, John and Frances were married by the same Reverend Browne.  An account of the wedding appeared in the Boston News Letter of November 11th, 1769 which read, “This morning his Excellency John Wentworth, Esq., our worthy and beloved Governor, was married by the Rev. Mr. Browne to Mrs. Frances Atkinson, widow of the honorable Theodore Atkinson, Jr., Esq., deceased—a lady adorned with every accomplishment requisite to make the marriage state agreeable” (Brewster’s Rambles, seacoastnh.com).  While the couple’s affections for one another were no mystery to Portsmouth gossips, the nuptials became a town scandal.  Nora Perry humorously describes the reaction in her 1875 poem Lady Wentworth:

“'Shame!’ cried the gossips, far and wide,

And ‘Shame’ cried the Wentworths in their pride—

All the Wentworth kin in Hampshire State.

This haste was unseemly; she’d only to wait

In her widow’s weeds a year and a day,

And not a gossip could say her nay”

Other accounts suggest that waiting was not possible as Frances was pregnant at the time of Theodore’s death (she supposedly lost the child).  The Governor’s Lady fictionally recreates Frances’ imagined dialogue with John, “The child will be born in less than seven months, so the sooner we wed the better.  Tongues are bound to wag, whatever we do.  Let them wag about me taking a new husband right after Theo’s death.  I'd rather that than have them clucking about a child too soon after the new husband took me to bed” (Thomas Raddall, The Governor's Lady, New York, p. 98).

Over the next six years, John and Frances split their time between the Governor’s mansion in Portsmouth and their family farm in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  Although they were still the subject of much fascination, the scandal of their wedding subsided and they entertained frequently.  In 1775, however, on the brink of the American Revolution, John, a fierce loyalist, and Frances left for England.  John had already established important contacts in London with the Marquis de Rockingham and the charming and lovely Frances was well received abroad.  John was knighted in 1795 and Frances assumed the title Lady Wentworth.  Frances’ new position allied her with the court where she became a frequent visitor and shortly thereafter, she was appointed Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III.  She died at the age of 68 in 1813 but remains a subject of much scrutiny and fascination.

Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr. is arguably one of Copley’s most beautiful American subjects.  The artist was at the height of his success in colonial America in 1765 and was receiving numerous commissions from the wealthiest New England patrons.  He had already painted Frances' husband Theodore in 1757-58 on the occasion of his graduation from Harvard and this piece was probably painted as a pendant to that portrait.  Theodore Atkinson, Jr. is one of Copley’s early efforts in portraiture but it already foreshadows his sensitivity as a colorist and his remarkable ability to capture the material essence of objects in paint. 

Frances is depicted in a revealing tightly-fitted bodice cut of fine grey-blue satin.  Her full skirt and deep blue robe billow around her in waves of shiny satin, accentuating her slender figure.  The chestnut brown patterned silk sash is arranged across her gown, perhaps an allusion to the familiar accoutrement of royal dress.  A pearl choker tied with ribbon around her neck and the shining pearls woven into her coiffure highlight her natural beauty while a crimson velvet curtain piped with gilt brocade completes the scene.   Her opulent dress typifies the sumptuousness of Copley’s portraits and the combination of iridescent satins and plush velvet creates an enticingly tactile surface meant to enchant the viewer.  Paul Staiti writes, “Copley’s appeal had something to do with his unprecedented skill in transcribing material things onto canvas: he could make paint look like polished mahogany or clear glass or reflective satin…In addition to his dazzling description, Copley…offered the elite persuasive fictions.  With his deft hands and social perspicacity he fashioned sitters into the personae they wanted to project.  Copley adroitly choreographed bodies, settings and objects into visual biographies—‘counterfeit presentments,’ in Tuckerman’s phrase—that had the power to calibrate social position in graphic ways that were legible to a community…Copley’s portraits became centerpieces in the stagecraft of 18th century persona” (John Singleton Copley in America, New York, p. 53).

Although his attention to surface is obvious, Copley delved beyond the sheer physical attributes and accoutrements of his sitters.  Barbara Weinberg writes, “Copley is more the realist in his effort—very often successful—to portray not only physical ‘likeness’ but psychological and moral truth as well.  He would put his sitters through fifteen or more sittings of six hours each, as he probed beyond mere appearance” (“The Lure of Paris,” A New World: Masterpieces of American Painting,  p. 34-45).  While we do not have a record of Frances’ sittings, her compellingly direct gaze dominates the composition and indicates Copley's intimate understanding of her character.  With an air of supreme confidence but not without warmth, Frances is a woman well aware of her allure, and the power which can accompany great beauty. Charles H. Caffin heralded this painting in The Story of American Painting: “The Portrait of Lady Wentworth, painted when she was nineteen and the artist twenty-eight, shows him [Copley] in full possession of his powers…What an air of birth and breeding the lady exhibits, a consciousness of indisputable social rank and beauty; what a complete poise of self-possession tinctured, however with just a flavor of prim severity!  How the portrait vivifies a certain phase of the past to our imagination!  Nor less remarkable is the technical charm of the picture when one remembers out of what a poverty of artistic opportunity Copley had emerged to this proficiency” (Garden City, New York, 1937, pp. 16-18).

One of the most unique elements of Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr. is the inclusion of the flying squirrel on a gold leash.  Copley may have incorporated this diminutive animal into the composition as an iconographic symbol.  Squirrels “were featured in several emblem books available to Copley, including Emblems for the Improvement and Entertainment of Youth of 1755, as symbols of desirable character traits and were thus suitable for inclusion in portraits of children and women” (John Singleton Copley in America, p. 218).  Copley employed this motif in another composition also of 1765, his iconic Boy with Squirrel (Henry Pelham) (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, figure 3), which was the first painting Copley sent to London for the Society of Artists exhibition in 1766.  The painting was very well received and established his reputation abroad.  Janet L. Comey’s writes, “Copley accurately and meticulously portrayed this nocturnal creature, showing its large, appealing eyes and the white-edged gliding membrane that allowed it to ‘fly.’  When taken from the nest at an early age, such an animal can be tamed and makes an affectionate and delightful pet.  Tuckerman reported that Copley was ‘said to have been intimately acquainted with the natural history of this animal, and made pets of several of the species, ‘certainly a plausible contention in view of the careful detail of depiction here.  Copley included another flying squirrel in Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr…He must have chosen to use the little animals in these portraits because they were common pets in colonial America and also because a squirrel taking meat from a nut was an emblem of patience, diligence and perseverance” (Ibid, p. 218).  Thomas Raddall in The Governor’s Lady advanced another interpretation of the inclusion of the squirrel, “The squirrel’s the tame husband on the lady’s chain.” (New York, 1960, p. 46).