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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
John Singleton Copley, American (Boston, MA 1738 - 1815 London, England)
John Adams (1735 - 1826)
John Adams (1735-1826)
Work Type
Creation Place: Europe, United Kingdom, England, London
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2410, South Arcade
View this object's location on our interactive map

Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
238.1 x 147 cm (93 3/4 x 57 7/8 in.)
frame: 270.5 x 178.4 x 10.2 cm (106 1/2 x 70 1/4 x 4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: in artist's hand: Inscription, on map: ATLAN/OCE


Recorded Ownership History
Commissioned by the sitter; retained by the artist; to Adams family; their loan to Ward Nicholas Boylston.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard University Portrait Collection, Bequest of Ward Nicholas Boylston to Harvard College, 1828
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • "The Crimson Party", Harvard Magazine (November-December 2000), p. 120., p. 120, ill.
  • Abigail Adams, Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams, ed. Charles Francis Adams, C. C. Little & J. Brown (Boston, MA, 1840), v. 2, p. 31
  • W. H. Bartlett and B. B. Woodward, The History of the United States of North America from the Discovery of the Western World to the Present Day, G. Virtue & Co. (New York, NY, 1856), vol. II, p. 191
  • 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. 72
  • 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. 27
  • "The Fine Arts: United States Section--Painting in Oil", Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (Philadelphia, PA, June 23, 1876), p. 1, p. 1
  • United States Centennial Commission, International Exhibition, 1876, Official Catalogue, Art Gallery and Annexes, exh. cat., John R. Nagle & Co. (Philadelphia, PA, 1876), p. 19, cat. 85
  • Boston Art Club, Massachusetts Centennial Art Exhibition, exh. cat. (Boston, MA, 1876), p. 11, cat. 141
  • J.S. Ingram, The Centennial Exposition, Hubbard Bros. (Philadelphia, PA, 1876), pp. 373-374
  • Martha Babcock Amory, The Domestic and Artistic Life of John Singleton Copley, R.A., Houghton Mifflin Company (Boston, MA, 1882), pp. 87-91, 210, 328, 470
  • Justin Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America, Houghton Mifflin Company (Boston, MA, 1884 - 1889), p. 36
  • Clarence Winthrop Bowen, ed., History of the Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington, D. Appleton & Co. (New York, NY, 1892), p. 423
  • William Garrott Brown, A List of Portraits in the Various Buildings of Harvard University, Harvard University Library (Cambridge, MA, 1898), p. 5
  • Frank William Bayley, A Sketch of the Life and a List of Some of the Works of John Singleton Copley, The Garden Press, W. B. Libby (Boston, MA, 1910), p. 9
  • Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., Writings of John Quincy Adams, Greenwood Press (New York, NY, 1913-1917), pp. 70-71
  • Letters and Papers of John Singleton Copley and Henry Pelham, Kennedy Galleries, Inc. (New York, 1914 reprint), p. 374
  • 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. 32, 38
  • Fogg Art Museum Handbook, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1927), p. 56
  • Cuthbert Lee, Early American Portrait Painters: The Fourteen Principal Earliest Native-born Painters, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT, 1929), p. 72
  • Theodore Bolton and Henry Lorin Binsse, "John Singleton Copley", The Antiquarian (New York, NY, December 1930), pp. 116-118., p. 116
  • Loan Exhibition of One Hundred Colonial Portraits, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA, 1930), ill. p. 1
  • Royal Cortissoz, "The Art of Copley at the Metropolitan", New York Herald Tribune (New York, NY, December 27, 1936), sec. 7, p. 8, p. 8
  • Fogg Art Museum Handbook, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1936), ill. p. 107
  • Laura M. Huntsinger, Harvard Portraits: A Catalogue of Portrait Paintings at Harvard University, ed. Alan Burroughs, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1936), p. 7
  • Paintings of John Singleton Copley, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, 1936), p. 9, pl. 41
  • Historical Records Survey, Division of Professional and Service Projects, Works Progress Administration, American Portraits, 1620-1825, found in Massachusetts, Volumes 1 and 2, Historical Records Survey (Boston, MA, 1939), p. 3, cat. 12
  • Survey of American Painting, exh. cat., Carnegie Institute (Pittsburgh, PA, 1940), cat. 63
  • Richard Brandon Morris, The Life History of the United States: Vol. 2: The Making of a Nation: 1775-1789, Time Inc. (New York, NY, 1963), vol. 2, p. 47
  • H.C. Warwick and Henry C. Pitz, Early American Dress, B. Blom (New York, NY, 1965), pl. 11
  • Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager, A Short History of the United States, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. (New York, NY, 1966), pl. III
  • Jules David Prown, John Singleton Copley, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1966), vol. 2, pp. 300, 388, 411, pl. 438
  • Elizabeth Ripley, Copley: A Biography, J. B. Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA, 1967), pp. 54-55, ill.
  • Andrew Oliver, Portraits of John and Abigail Adams, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1967), pp. 23-38, cat. 18, figs. 9, 10
  • 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. 120
  • Robert Plate, John Singleton Copley: America's First Great Artist, David McKay (New York, NY, 1969), pp. 128-129
  • Cornelius C. Vermeule III, Numismatic Art in America (Cambridge, MA, 1971), pp. 4-5, fig. I
  • 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), cat. 9, ill.
  • John J. Reardon, Edmund Randolph: A Biography, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. (New York and London, 1974), ill. n.p.
  • Thomas Fleming, 1776: Year of Illusions, W. W. Norton & Company (New York, 1975), ill. n.p. detail
  • Louise Todd Ambler, Benjamin Franklin: A Perspective, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1975), pp. 95, 141, no. 82, ill. p. 95
  • Peter Shaw, The Character of John Adams, The University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC, 1976), frontispiece, fig. 2, opp. p. 132
  • Evelyn Branson, American History for Today, Ginn & Company (Lexington, MA, 1977), p.
  • Stanley J. Idzerda, ed., Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY, 1980), v. 5, ill. p. 228
  • Olivier Bernier, The Eighteenth-Century Woman, Doubleday & Co. (Garden City, NY, 1981), ill. p. 97
  • Susan Mary Alsop, Yankees at the Court: The First Americans in Paris, Doubleday & Co. (New York, NY, 1982), ill. between pp. 176-177
  • James G. Barber and Frederick S. Voss, Blessed are the Peacemakers: A Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Treaty of Paris, exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, D.C., 1983), pp. 22-23
  • 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. 134
  • Richard B. Bernstein and Kym S. Rice, "Are We To Be a Nation?": The Making of the Constitution, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1987), pl. 9
  • Richard B. Bernstein and Kym S. Rice, Are We To Be a Nation?: The Making of the Constitution, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1987), pl. IX
  • Margaret Christman, The First Federal Congress 1789-1791, exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery (Washington, D.C, 1989), pp. 216-218, ill. p. 217
  • "200th Birthday of Quincy, Mass.", Yankee (Dublin, NH, February 1992)
  • Sandra Grindlay, "Harvard's Portraits: An American Treasure", Harvard University Art Museums Review (Fall 1992), vol. II, no. 1, pp. 6-7, p. 6
  • Dickran Tashjian, "The Artlessness of American Culture", Making America: The Society & Culture of the United States, ed. Luther S. Luedtke, The University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill & London, 1992), pp. 162-175, p. 171, fig. 8.1
  • Edith Gelles, Portia: The World of Abigail Adams, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN, 1992), ill. n.p.
  • Laura Fecych Sprague, The Legacy of James Bowdoin III, exh. cat., Bowdoin College Museum of Art (Brunswick, ME, 1994), pp.67-68, fig 19
  • Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., "An American Despite Himself", John Singleton Copley, ed. Carrie Rebora Barratt, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, 1995-1996), p. 79
  • John Ferling, John Adams: A Life, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN, 1995), frontispiece, pp. 275, 277
  • Emily Ballew Neff, ed., John Singleton Copley in England, exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, TX, 1995), p. 170, fig. 80
  • Edwin S. Gaustad, "Disciples of Reason", Christian History (Worcester, PA, May 1, 1996), vol. 15, issue 2, p. 28, ill. p. 28
  • Conor Cruise O'Brien, The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800, University of Chicago Press (Chicago & London, 1996), ill. opp. p. 9
  • Natalie Bober, Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY, 1998), ill. p. 126
  • Philip B. Kunhardt and Peter W. Kunhardt, The American President, Riverhead Books (New York, 1999), p. 134, ill.
  • James McPherson, "To the Best of My Ability": The American Presidents, Dorling Kindersley Limited (New York, 2000), ill. p. 27 (detail)
  • Russell Freedman, Give Me Liberty! The Story of the Declaration of Independence, Holiday House Inc. (New York, 2000), ill. p. 21
  • David McCullough, John Adams, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY, 2001), pp. 297-298, ill. opp. p. 145
  • Margaret Pokorny, ed., Copley Square: The Story of Boston's Art Square, brochure, Friends of Copley Square (Boston, MA, 2002), p. 36, ill.
  • Jacqueline Jones, Created Equal: A Social and Political History of the United States , Longman Publishers (New York, NY, 2003), ill. p. 238
  • Gail Feigenbaum, ed., Jefferson's America & Napoleon's France, exh. cat., New Orleans Museum of Art (New Orleans, 2003), p. 154, cat. 133
  • Steven C. Bullock, The American Revolution: A History in Documents, Oxford University Press (NY) (New York, 2003), ill. p. 113
  • John T. Bethell, Richard M. Hunt, and Robert Shenton, Harvard A to Z, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 2004), p. 277
  • Kimberly Orcutt, Process and Paradox: The Historical Pictures of John Singleton Copley, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2004), pp. 3, 12, ill. p. 5
  • James Grant, John Adams: Party of One, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY, 2005), pl.
  • Eric Stockdale, 'Tis Treason, My Good Man!: Four Revolutionary Presidents and a Piccadilly Bookshop, Oak Knoll Press and British Library (London, England, 2005), ill. p. 136
  • Stacey Bredhoff, Eyewitness: American Originals from the National Archives, The Foundation for the National Archives (Washington, DC, 2006), ill. p. 56
  • Gaye Wilson, "'Behold me at length on the vaunted scene of Europe': Thomas Jefferson and the Creation of an American Image Abroad", Old World, New World: America and Europe in the Age of Jefferson, ed. Leonard J. Sadosky, Peter Nicolaisen, Peter S. Onuf, and Andrew J. O'Shaughnessy, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville and London, 2010), pp. 155-178, pp. 171-174, fig. 8
  • C. James Taylor, Papers of John Adams, Series III, General Correspondence and Other Papers of the Adams Statesmen (Cambridge, MA, 2010), pp. xiii-xiv, 356, fig. 7
  • 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. 23, 148-150, 463, cat. 93, ill.
  • Derek W. Beck, Igniting the American Revolution, 1773-1775, Sourcebooks, Inc. (Naperville, Illinois, 2015), p. 51, repr.
  • Prof. Jane Kamensky, A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley, W.W. Norton & Company (New York, 2016), pp.314-316; repr. as fig.9-7 on p.314
  • Kimberly Orcutt, Power & Posterity: American Art at Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition, Pennsylvania State University Press (University Park, Pennsylvania, 2017), p. 63
  • Daniëlle O. Kisluk-Grosheide and Bertrand Rondot, ed., Visitors to Versailles: From Louis XIV to the French Revolution, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press (New York, 2018), p. 296, repr. as fig. 104

Exhibition History

  • Unidentified Exhibition, St. Petersburg, 1811, Unknown Venue, St. Petersburg, 01/01/1811 - 12/31/1811
  • Boston Athenaeum Second Exhibition of Paintings, 1828, Boston Athenaeum, Boston, 05/01/1828 - 12/31/1828
  • Massachusetts Centennial Art Exhibition, Boston Art Club, Boston, 04/01/1876 - 04/30/1876
  • International Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1876, Philadelphia, PA, 05/10/1876 - 11/10/1876
  • Unidentified Exhibition, MFA Boston, 1930, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 05/20/1930 - 12/31/1930
  • Loan Exhibition of One Hundred Colonial Portraits: Massachusetts Bay Colony Tercentenary, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 06/19/1930 - 09/21/1930
  • The Paintings of John Singleton Copley, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 12/22/1936 - 02/14/1937
  • Survey of American Painting, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 10/24/1940 - 12/15/1940
  • American Art at Harvard, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/19/1972 - 06/18/1972
  • Benjamin Franklin: A Perspective, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/17/1975 - 09/22/1975
  • Blessed are the Peacemakers, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, 09/03/1983 - 11/27/1983
  • "Are We To Be A Nation?" The Making of the Federal Constitution, New York Public Library, New York, 04/16/1987 - 09/19/1987
  • The First Federal Congress, 1789-1791, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, 03/02/1989 - 07/23/1989
  • The Legacy of James Bowdoin III, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, 10/15/1993 - 06/26/1994
  • Jefferson's America & Napoleon's France, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, 04/12/2001 - 08/31/2003
  • Process and Paradox: The Historical Pictures of John Singleton Copley, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 05/08/2004 - 08/29/2004
  • Special installation, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Boston, 10/01/2004 - 10/01/2005
  • One year loan of John Singleton Copley, John Adams (1735 - 1826) to AAAS, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Boston, 10/01/2005 - 10/01/2006
  • 32Q: 2410 South Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Collection Highlights
  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at