Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Izard (Alice Delancey)
John Singleton Copley (American, 1738–1815)
Overall: 174.6 x 223.5cm (68 3/4 x 88in.) Framed: 203.2 x 254 x 10.2 cm (80 x 100 x 4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on canvas
Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Gallery (Gallery 246)
Copley left America on June 10, 1774, as the increasing political turmoil in the colonies placed the artist in a precarious position between his Whig and Tory patrons. After spending several weeks in England, Copley made his way to Italy. There he was sought out by Ralph Izard, a wealthy merchant from Charleston, South Carolina, who desired to have his portrait painted by the young American artist. Copley and the Izards traveled together to Naples, where they toured Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Paestum. Returning to Rome, Copley began this monumental double portrait of the Izards, building on the traditional repertoire of formal portraiture to depict the Izards as connoisseurs on the Grand Tour.
Seated opposite each other at a polished porphyry table, Mr. and Mrs. Izard are surrounded by opulent furnishings and classical references that connote their wealth, discriminating taste, and cultural sophistication. The high-style table and elaborately carved chairs are Roman in design, while the column and plinth behind Ralph Izard are faced with verde antique, a rare green marble from Thessaly. The distant view includes the Colosseum, symbol of ancient Rome and the most important monument for early American travelers to Italy. Ralph Izard holds a drawing of the sculptural group located directly behind him and his wife. The inclusion of this sculpture, often identified as Orestes and Electra, and the fifth-century-B.C. Greek vase at the upper left, are important reminders of the Izards’ interest in art and antiquities. The antique objects also communicate themes of erotic and fraternal love, a reference by Copley to the Izards’ love for each other.
The Izards never took possession of their portrait, having left Rome late in 1775 to return to London and then moving to Paris during the Revolutionary War. Copley completed the painting, which he then took to London; it may have been the picture exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1776, titled A Conversation.
This text was adapted from Eleanor Jones in Theodore E. Stebbins Jr. et al., The Lure of Italy: American Artists and the Italian Experience, 1760–1914, exh. cat.(Boston: Museum of Fine Arts in association with Harry N. Abrams, 1992).
1775, the artist; 1824, sold by Copley's widow to the sitters' grandson, Dr. Gabriel Manigault (1788-1834), Charleson, S. C.; by 1889, descended in the Manigault family to Dr. Gabriel Edward Manigault (1833-1899), Charleston; 1903, sold by the estate of Dr. Gabriel Edward Manigault to the MFA for $7,250. (Accession Date: April 28, 1903)
Edward Ingersoll Brown Fund