Saturday, February 18, 2017

Paul Revere - Dissecting the Copley Painting

Ben Franklin
Abraham Lincoln
I've always greatly admired those who "transform" themselves into a historic person, and I never imagined that I would one day do so myself.
Well, as you know, that's exactly what I patriot Paul Revere.
What helps me in this venture is that I am good friends with others who interpret in this manner: Bob Stark as Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Fred Priebe as President Abraham Lincoln, and, more recently, Larissa as Sybil Ludington.
The folks mentioned (and pictured) here do a phenomenal job in their historical character interpretations and all have helped me hone my own skills.
I have to admit that the two aforementioned men definitely look like the great men of history they portray - I mean, just look at them...
And no one alive today really knows what Sybil Ludington actually looked like, so Larissa is fine in her presentation.
Paul Revere
Sybil Ludington
However, I do not look very much like the actual Paul Revere, but knowing that most people would not recognize an image of the man if they saw one does benefit me. It's for this reason I accent my knowledge of Revere and try even harder to have the public believe I am this patriot, whether they know of his physical features or not, and I want to make sure I am presenting it all correctly - to make my interpretation of the man believable. Though the research and learning never end, I feel I am at a point where I can somewhat comfortably "put myself out there" in this manner for presentations and at reenactments. 
But there's always room for improvement, which I strive to do.
And Revere certainly does have a story to tell...there is so much more about him than a single night's ride that a poet made famous eighty years later.
Since he is not on any money, and most history books usually show him as a darkened figure on a horse silhouetted against a moon-lit sky, just how do we know what the real Paul Revere looked like?
“Painting depicting the midnight ride of Paul Revere” – 1937. Artist A.L. Ripley
Enter John Singleton Copley.
I know...who the heck is John Singleton Copley?
Mr. Copley was an 18th century American-born painter who had done work in the colonies as well as in London. He was most famous for his portraits of important citizens of the time, including John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Gage, just to name a few.
He was also known for depicting middle class colonial America, and he would include in these paintings some of the artifacts important in the subject's lives.
And this is where Paul Revere fits in...
Not too long ago I acquired a wonderful book about Copley entitled John Singleton Copley in America.
Not only does author Carrie Rebora include beautiful color portraits Copley painted, but detailed descriptions of the subject's portrayed, including the clothing and surrounding artifacts. In doing so she helps us to understand the times, fashions, and the people from the 18th century in a slightly different manner than the norm.
Personally I found her dissection of Revere's clothing and tools to be of great help in how I might interpret the man.
Now, before we get too far, one must understand the process of having a portrait done in the 18th century. According to author Esther Forbes in her book Paul Revere & the World He Lived In, to have a painting done, the sitter and artist would sit fifteen or sixteen times, sometimes up to sixteen hours at a time.
And we thought having to send in our old 35 mm film in the days before digital cameras was a pain.
I can only imagine...
Anyhow, I have taken the liberty to reprint here in italics some of what Carrie Rebora wrote about this life-painting of my favorite founding hero.
 I think you'll find it quite interesting.
Ladies & Gentlemen, meet the real  Paul Revere
'Paul Revere' is Copley’s only finished portrait of an artisan dressed in shirt sleeves and shown at work. Revere is shown half-length, seated behind a highly polished table, and casually attired. He cradles his chin in his right hand and regards the viewer as if he has just looked up from the teapot in his left hand; the pot is finished but remains undecorated, and the engraving tools at Revere’s elbow attest to the work yet to come.
When Copley painted Revere’s portrait, his sitter was an accomplished, well-established silversmith and master of the rococo style, both in engraving and in three-dimensional hollow ware such as teapots.
Paul Revere's "Sons of Liberty" Bowl from 1768
Revere completed the Sons of Liberty Bowl, now considered one of the United States’ most cherished historical treasures, the same year Copley captured his likeness.
Copley's image of Revere is unprecedented not only in his own body of work but also in American colonial painting. Though Copley had produced a few portraits of craftsmen, his usual patrons were clergymen and merchants and their wives. 
In Copley's (painting), the wigless Revere wears a plain white linen shirt with no cravat and only a hint of a frill on the right sleeve. The shirt is open, revealing an undershirt or possibly an untied stock beneath. 
His blue-green (maybe "forest green"?) waistcoat, made of wool or matte silk, is likewise unfastened; two gold buttons are visible below Revere’s right hand. The open shirt and the waistcoat worn without a jacket are associated with work clothes.
However, other aspects of his clothing, such as its cleanliness and the gold buttons (possibly used here, along with the teapot, to advertise Revere’s products), do not accurately reflect the garments Revere actually wore to ply his trade. Moreover, the polished table is not the craftsman’s workbench. Thus, in his portrait of Revere, Copley presented an idealized image of the artisan at work. 

One the other hand, author Esther Forbes came to a slightly differing conclusion: "Paul Revere's is one of (Copley's) very few portraits without any...elegant self-consciousness. He painted Paul just as he saw him when he entered his shop to dicker for a frame for a miniature. There can be no doubt but Copley reproduced (Revere's) expression admirably.
This is the Paul Revere of the Stamp Act days, of the Sons of Liberty, the Massacre and the Tea Party. Those bold eyes, even on canvas, look able to 'watch out,' (and) 'see what was acting' on the darkest night...

                                                                                              Back to Ms. Rebora: 
The engraving tools of Revere's trade:
a steel engraving needle, two etching burins,
and a hammering pillow beneath his arm.
Though 'Paul Revere' is now one of the most celebrated of American portraits, the circumstances of its execution are uncertain. It is known that Copley had met Revere by 1763, when the painter ordered a gold bracelet from the smith, and it is recorded in Revere’s account book (The Revere Waste and Memoranda Book, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston) that Copley (also) purchased frames and cases for his miniatures between 1763 and 1767. However, the occasion for the commission of this portrait and the identification of the client who paid for it remain mysteries (though author Esther Forbes suggested in her book: "From 1765 to 1767 there are many debts in Revere's ledger against Copley...Probably Copley painted Revere's portrait to balance off the debit...")
The date inscribed on the painting—1768—enhances the iconographic significance of the teapot, both as an aesthetic and a political symbol. Teapots were among the most complex objects Revere made; they represented his craft in its highest form. According to Revere’s account book, he made a total of nine teapots from 1762 to 1773. Of those nine, six were made between 1762 and 1765, one in 1768, and the other two in 1773. Revere’s production of teapots had declined by 1768 in response to the Townshend Acts, which imposed duties on a variety of imported goods including tea. The teapot, then, was a provocative attribute for Revere, especially given his radical Whig politics.
Well, I may not be in a silversmith shop,
but it is a tinsmith shop, which can be a 
fine substitute and give the impression 
that I am looking for.
I do have a waistcoat very similar in style 
and color to what Mr. Revere is wearing 
in the Copley painting, but I did not 
have it at the time of this photo.
By the way, contrary to what this pictures 
depicts, I was actually very happy here. 
Not sure why I have a scowl on my face.
Unlike Copley’s portraits of Samuel Adams  and John Hancock, which were displayed in Faneuil Hall, Boston, and were translated into prints, Paul Revere did not become a public image during the Revolution or in its aftermath. The Copley portrait remained in the Revere family after the sitter’s death in 1818, apparently relegated to an attic. According to family tradition, Revere’s daughter Harriet so disliked the informality of the portrait that she had her nephew, Frederick Ballestier Revere, an amateur artist, make a copy using only the face from the original; he replaced the shirtsleeves with a red uniform and a gorget of crossed cannon, a testament to Paul Revere’s military service.
The Revere family’s interest in the Copley portrait seems to have revived at about the time Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1861, for it was reported that the painting had been restored by 1875. The portrait was not publicly displayed until 1928, when it was first loaned to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; Revere’s great-grandsons gave the painting to the Museum in 1930. The current popularity of the portrait seems to have begun with the publication of Esther Forbes’s 1942 Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of Paul Revere, which used the Copley portrait as the frontispiece.

Provenance (history of ownership) of the Paul Revere painting tells us that by 1873 it had been descended in the Revere family to the sitter's grandson, John Revere (1822-1886), of Boston, then, upon his 1886 death, it went to his wife, Susan (Mrs. John Revere. After her death in 1911, the painting went, by descent, to her sons, Joseph Warren Revere (1848-1932), William Bacon Revere (1859-1948), and Edward Hutchinson Robbins Revere (1867-1957). In 1930, the painting was given as a gift by the three brothers to the MFA (Museum of Fine Arts in Boston) - - - - - -

 While in Williamsburg, I let this gentleman
know that I, Paul Revere, was from "Bast'n."
Now, let's add even more "life" to Mr. Revere. As David Hackett Fischer wrote in his book Paul Revere's Ride: "If we can see him in Copley's painting, we can also hear him speak in the eccentric way he spelled his words. His spelling tells us that Paul Revere talked with a harsh, nasal New England twang. His strong Yankee accent...can still be faintly heard today.
When Revere's friends wrote in defense of their cherished charter rights, they spelled charter as chattaer, with two t's and one r, and probably pronounced it with no r at all. All his life, Revere spelled get as git. His mother's maiden name of Hitchborn was written Hitchbon in the town of Boston, which was pronounced as Bast'n. His friends wrote mash for marsh and want for weren't, hull for whole and foller for follow, sarve for serve and acummin for coming.  They favored biblical cadences such as we there abode and homely expressions such as something wet and misty. This was the folk-speech of an Anglo-American culture that was already six generations old by 1775, and deeply rooted in Paul Revere's New England."

Well, there you have it, a fine dissertation of the JS Copley painting of Paul Revere with a little "extra" thrown in.
Many historians prefer politics and war, but, for me, this is the sort of history that means every bit as much, and it is over-looked far too often.
 ~ ~ ~

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we are in the beginnings of the sestercentennial of the anniversary of the United States becoming an independent country, and I plan to celebrate it as much as I possibly can, just as I did for the bicentennial. And information like this is a wonderful way to help in the celebration.
Presenting as Paul Revere, Sybil Ludington, and Ben Franklin to school kids is an excellent way to get the historical fire lit. The following pictures show our latest:
Here I am as Paul Revere speaking with a group of 8th graders at Guardian Angels Catholic School in Clawson (Michigan).
Being that the teacher of this class is a former reenactor, the kids were prepared and had questions ready for us. 

Larissa as Sybil Ludington:
We were all pleasantly surprised the kids knew about Miss Ludington and were just as excited to meet her as they were the two more well-known patriots.

Here is Bob as Benjamin Franklin:
He asked the young scholars what they were most interested in knowing about "his" life, and they chose to hear about his experiments on electricity.

Paul Revere & Emily:
Emily and I have known each other for many years.
She used to reenact the Civil War with us, 
and before that, when she was a tiny tot, 
she did the Rev War with her family.
And now she is a teacher. I'm so proud of her!

Patriot's win the Superbowl!
Yep---this school presentation took place the day
following Superbowl Sunday 2017.
Of course, we knew the Patriots would win!
Our way of bringing history to life - - - I like to think that it's a great experience for the kids!
And this coming May we'll find out how adults will respond when we present at the Sterling Heights Public Library.
Dr. Franklin should especially enjoy presenting there!

Until next time, see you in time...

To purchase Carrie Rebora's book, click the titled link here---> John Singleton Copley in America
It is so much more than about Paul Revere (who only takes up 3 out of the 328 pages); it is sort of an alternative/unique history lesson on life in 18th century colonial America through historical painting and style.
To purchase Paul Revere & the World He Lived In by Esther Forbes, click HERE
To order Paul Revere's Ride by David Hackett Fischer (which was first printed in 1995 on April 19), click HERE 

To read more about Paul Revere's famous ride, click HERE
To read more about my portrayal of Paul Revere, click HERE
To read more about presenting as Paul, Ben Franklin and Sybil Ludington, click HERE
To read more about how I acquired a replica of the Old North Church lantern, click HERE
To read more about America's fight for independence, click HERE
And for an overview of colonial life in America, click HERE




Unknown said...

It is so interesting that one of our historical culture's most memorable calls to patriotism is about Paul Revere's famous ride; which is such a brief moment in a very interesting life, lived in very interesting times.

I am inspired to read more and thank you for your post. I believe that people benefit from a deeper understanding of a historical moment, when they know more about the people who lived in that moment.

Keep pressing on and lighting those "fires." Those fires illuminate so much more than history, they alight a passion for learning.

Historical Ken said...

Thank you so much for your kind comments, Beth Ray.
I certainly do appreciate it!