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Portrait of an elderly man in a black two pointed hat and red jacket

An older, clean shaven man looks above us and to the right, smiling confidently. He has light, ruddy skin, blue eyes and bushy gray eyebrows. He wears a large black hat whose brim is flipped up to form two points at his left and right sides. The brim is lined with gold at the edge. The shoulders of his red jacket are loosely painted and rendered with less detail, and the gray-blue background is quickly brushed in. Other details are left incomplete, rendered only in dark outlines on blank white canvas, such as the figure at left in the foreground who looks over his shoulder at the man’s face.

Gallery Text

In 1783, the City of London commissioned Copley to create a large public painting commemorating Britain’s victory over the French and Spanish navies at the Siege of Gibraltar in 1782. These portraits were preparatory studies for that painting. Committed to a new kind of history painting that would be grounded in factual and visual accuracy, Copley hoped to incorporate life portraits of soldiers who had participated in the battle. In the summer of 1787, he traveled to Germany to paint De La Motte (1942.179), von Hugo, and von Schlepegrell (1942.180), German officers who had helped the British to defend Gibraltar. Among the liveliest and most engaging works in Copley’s oeuvre, these portraits are both character studies and experiments in composition, as the extensive underdrawing around each figure suggests.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
John Singleton Copley, American (Boston, MA 1738 - 1815 London, England)
Major General August de la Motte
Work Type
Creation Place: North America, United States
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2240, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, The Arts in the Eighteenth–Century Atlantic World
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
52.1 x 41.9 cm (20 1/2 x 16 1/2 in.)
framed: 74.9 x 64.5 x 7.9 cm (29 1/2 x 25 3/8 x 3 1/8 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
To artist’s son Lord Lyndhurst; sold [through his estate sale, March 5, 1864]; to Clarke. Mrs. Charles (Martha Babcock) Amory; to her daughter Mrs. F. Gordon Dexter (Susan Greene Amory), by 1915; to her son Gordon Dexter; to his wife Mrs. Gordon Dexter, gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1942.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mrs. Gordon Dexter
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • Ernst von dem Knesebeck, Geschichte der churhannoverschen Truppen in Gibraltar, Minorca und Ostindien, Im Verlage der Helwingschen Hof-Buchhandlung (Hannover, Germany, 1845), p. 89
  • Henry T. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists: American Artist Life, Comprising Biographical and Critical Sketches of American Artists, Preceded by an Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of Art in America, Putnam (New York, NY, 1867), p. 79
  • Augustus Thorndyke Perkins, A Sketch of the Life and a List of Some of the Works of John Singleton Copley, J. R. Osgood & Company (Boston, MA, 1873), p. 132
  • Martha Babcock Amory, The Domestic and Artistic Life of John Singleton Copley, R.A., Houghton Mifflin Company (Boston, MA, 1882), pp. 93-94
  • Frank William Bayley, The Life and Works of John Singleton Copley: Founded on the Work of Augustus Thorndike Perkins, The Taylor Press (Boston, MA, 1915), pp. 34, 36, 94, 225
  • Theodore Bolton and Henry Lorin Binsse, "John Singleton Copley", The Antiquarian (New York, NY, December 1930), pp. 116-118., p. 116
  • "Gifts", Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, November 1942), vol. X, no. 1, p. 3
  • Jules David Prown, John Singleton Copley, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1966), vol. 2, pp. 327, 402, 417, pl. 496
  • William Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, Dover Publications Inc. (New York, 1969), vol. I, p. 106
  • Kenyon Castle Bolton, III, Peter G. Huenink, Earl A. Powell III, Harry Z. Rand, and Nanette C. Sexton, American Art at Harvard, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1972), n.p., mentioned in entry for cat. 10
  • National Maritime Museum, London, 1776: The British Story of the American Revolution, exh. cat. (Greenwich, 1976), p. 208
  • William J. Shank, "John Singleton Copley's Portraits: A Technical Study of Three Representative Examples", Journal of the American Institute for Conservation (Washington, D.C., 1984), vol. 23, pp. 130-152, p. 133, ill.
  • Robin Simon, The Portrait in Britain and America, Phaidon Press (Oxford, England, 1987), pp. 20-21, fig. 9
  • The Martial Face: The Military Portrait in Britain 1760-1900, exh. cat., Brown University and David Winton Bell Gallery (Providence, RI, 1991), p. 98, no. 16b
  • Emily Ballew Neff, ed., John Singleton Copley in England, exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, TX, 1995), pp. 160-161, cat. 35, ill.
  • Emily Ballew Neff, "John Singleton Copley: The Artist as 'Realist' and London Impresario" (1997), University of Texas at Austin, p. 194
  • Sandra L. Webber, "The Discovered Hand: John Singleton Copley's Underdrawing Techniques", Porticus, Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester (Rochester, NY, 2001), vol. 20, pp. 48-58, p. 53, ill. p. 31
  • Emily Ballew Neff and Kaylin H. Weber, American Adversaries: West and Copley in a Transatlantic World, exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, TX, 2013), pp. 216-218, fig. 204
  • Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. and Melissa Renn, American Paintings at Harvard, Volume One: Paintings, Watercolors, and Pastels by Artists Born before 1826, Yale University Press (U.S.) and Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge and New Haven, 2014), pp. 154-156, cat. 97, ill.

Exhibition History

  • 1776, National Maritime Museum, London, London, 04/01/1976 - 10/01/1976
  • The Martial Face: the Military Portrait in Britain 1760-1900, David Winton Bell Gallery, Providence, 01/26/1991 - 03/03/1991
  • John Singleton Copley in England, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 10/11/1995 - 01/07/1996; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, 02/04/1996 - 04/28/1996
  • 32Q: 2240 18th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 08/06/2024; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Related Works

Verification Level

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