Dorothy Quincy (Mrs. John Hancock)
John Singleton Copley (American, 1738–1815)
127.32 x 100.65 cm (50 1/8 x 39 5/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on canvas
Dola Hamilton Stemberg Family Gallery (Gallery 125A)
Dorothy Quincy, born in Boston in 1747, was the youngest of the ten children of Judge Edmund Quincy and Elizabeth Wendell Quincy. Dorothy spent most of her early years in Braintree, Massachusetts, in a lively household, where John and Samuel Adams [L-R 30.76c], Dr. Joseph Warren [95.1366], James Otis, and John Hancock [L-R 30.76d] frequently visited her father, an ardent patriot. It is not known what event prompted the family to commission Copley to paint Dorothy’s portrait; it was not a marriage, for Dorothy would not wed John Hancock for another three years. However, Copley had already depicted several other members of the Quincy family, including Dorothy’s uncle Josiah Quincy (about 1767, private collection); her cousin Jonathan Jackson [1987.295]; another cousin, Samuel Quincy [1970.356] (about 1767); and his wife, Mrs. Samuel Quincy [1970.357] (about 1761).
Copley fashioned a handsome portrait of the reputedly beautiful and intelligent daughter of one of Massachusetts’s leading families. He posed Dorothy with a hand to her face in a thoughtful pose, suggesting introspection and intellect. It was a gesture he used for several of his sitters, both men and women, including Mrs. Richard Skinner (Dorothy Wendell)[06.2428], whom he painted in a similar fashion at this same time. Quincy is surrounded by elegant furnishings; she sits at a stylish spider-leg table, which Copley probably kept in his studio, since it appears in three other portraits: Mrs. Richard Skinner (Dorothy Wendell), Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Winslow (Jemima Debuke) [39.250], and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin (1773, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia). The table was a fashionable and tasteful piece of furniture in 1772, but the easy chair in which Dorothy Quincy sits is somewhat irregular. Art historian Jonathan Prown has observed that the chair “lacks upper cheeks … [and] its nail-decorated ramp arms are rare on colonial American easy chairs.” Unlike the table, the chair may have been more a product of Copley’s imagination than an actual studio prop.
Dorothy Quincy’s costume is both graceful and stylish. Her hair was probably combed over a roll to produce a fashionably high coiffure, atop which she wears a dress cap of lace, gauze, and ribbon, a “frivolous and very feminine confection that serves no practical purpose” according to art historian Aileen Ribeiro. Dorothy’s silk pink robe and matching stomacher are decorated with a large bow, and the sleeves end in triple ruffles, probably of whiteworked muslin rather than lace. Her sheer apron is also of muslin, embroidered with large floral sprays. Although aprons are now associated with working life, in the eighteenth century they were appropriate for all but the most formal occasions as long as they were of expensive fabric. The frothy dress cap, brilliant pink dress, and delicate muslin ruffles and apron reflected the wealth of the Quincy family and were suitable adornment for this eligible young woman, known to friends and family as “Dolly.”
In 1775, Dorothy Quincy would marry John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence and the first and third governor of Massachusetts. She became well-known as a charming and lively hostess. John Adams wrote of their marriage, “His choice was very natural, a granddaughter of the great patron and most revered friend of his father. Beauty, politeness, and every domestic virtue justified his predilection.” After John Hancock’s death in 1793, she married Colonel James Scott and lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. When her second husband died in 1809, she returned to Boston, where she was celebrated once again for her hospitality and sparkling conversation. Dorothy Quincy died in 1830, at the age of 83.
1. Jonathan Prown, “John Singleton Copley’s Furniture and the Art of Invention,” in American Furniture 2004, ed. Luke Beckerdite (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Chipstone Foundation, 2004), 187.
2. Aileen Ribeiro, “‘The Whole Art of Dress’: Costume in the Work of John Singleton Copley,” in John Singleton Copley in America, by Carrie Rebora et al., exh. cat.(New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Harry N. Abrams, 1995), 110.
3. Heather Toomer, Embroidered with White: The 18th Century Fashion for Dresden Lace and other Whiteworked Accessories (Great Britain: Heather Toomer Antique Lace, 2008), 30, 35.
4. John Hancock quoted in Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, The Pioneer Mothers of America (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912), 29.
Janet L. Comey
About 1772, the sitter, Dorothy Quincy (1747-1829), who married John Hancock in 1775. Theodore Cushing, the Benning Wentworth House, Little Harbor, N.H.; by 1873, Harriet A. Cushing, Little Harbor, N. H.; by 1890, by descent to the great-granddaughter of Theodore Cushing, Mary L. Rose (Mrs. George S. Rose), Boston; by 1896, Estate of Mrs. George S. Rose; 1915, by inheritance to her granddaughter, Anne Rose Bowen; [Anne Rose Bowen became Mrs. Atherton Loring in 1927]; 1975, partial purchase and gift of Mrs. Anne B. Loring to the MFA. (Accession Date: February 12, 1975)
Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund and Gift of Mrs. Anne B. Loring