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Formal portrait of a middle-aged gentleman in eighteenth-century attire, stands next to a table with maps, looking at the viewer.

John Quincy Adams faces left, wearing a brown velvet coat with ornate buttons, white stockings, sword on his left hip, and grey curly wig tied with a black bow. His left arm extends toward the table, pointing at an unrolled map. His right hand holds a rolled paper against his chest. He’s framed by dark green drapery tied in upper right. A classical statue figure holds a leafed branch on a pedestal in the upper left. Light illuminates from the upper right. A large globe on a stand peeks out from under a tapestry covered table on lower left.

Gallery Text

Painted in London soon after the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, this grand portrait commemorates Adams’s role in securing American independence. The diplomat and future president gestures toward a map and globe that display the new lands he claimed for his government. In the background, in a gesture of peace, a classical statue extends an olive branch and lowers a torch.

Though Copley planned to publicly display the painting in London, it proved too celebratory for British audiences, who were still reeling from their loss to the colonists. It remained in Copley’s studio until 1796, when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy. Nineteen years later, the work was dispatched from London to the Adams estate in Quincy, Massachusetts. Although Adams’s wife Abigail praised the portrait as “a very good likeness,” the second president himself disparaged it as “a Piece of Vanity.”

Identification and Creation

Object Number
H74
People
John Singleton Copley, American (Boston, MA 1738 - 1815 London, England)
John Adams (1735 - 1826)
Title
John Adams (1735-1826)
Classification
Paintings
Work Type
painting
Date
1783
Places
Creation Place: Europe, United Kingdom, England, London
Culture
American
Persistent Link