Periods and Styles: Early America
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It is primarily through his association with John Singleton Copley that we remember Peter Pelham today. Pelham married Copley's widowed mother in1747 and is thought to have been the first to offer encouragement and training to the young man destined to be the colony's most accomplished artist. Pelham however had a significant career of his own. Trained as a printmaker in England, Pelham came to Boston in 1727. As Wayne Craven points out in American Colonial Portraiture, "All evidence suggests that Peter Pelham (c. 1698–1751) must have been a young man of culture and refinement, well-rounded and polished in the accomplishments of gentry society, as well as a thoroughly trained engraver when he arrived in Boston." Bringing his press with him,
Pelham executed mezzotints of a number of prominent Boston clergy, namely the venerable Congregationalist minister Cotton Mather, reform Congregationalist Benjamin Colman, and Anglican Henry Caner. Pelham, however, was not able to make his living solely from engraving. He was forced to supplement his income as an organizer of musical programs, a dancing teacher, and a schoolmaster.
Thomas Prince is typical of Pelham's mezzotints. Encircled by a paneled frame, the cleric is shown in black robes collared with the white linen Geneva bands of the ministry. His shoulder-length white wig, once condemned by colonial Puritans as a symbol of vanity and courtly style, the full-fleshed face, and satisfied expression reflect the comfortable life available to the Boston clergy in the mid eighteenth century. The inscription below the portrait enumerates the intellectual and social accomplishments of the sitter, an historian and minister who served as pastor of the Old South Church. While Pelham often made mezzotints after the portraits of Smibert, here he has copied a painting by John Greenwood. Pelham has taken liberties with Greenwood's original by reversing the pose and enlarging the spandrels into a full enframement.
This object was included in the following exhibitions:Faces of the Addison: Portraits from the Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/23/1994 - 7/31/1994
Conversations: A Collection in Dialogue, Addison Gallery of American Art, 1/7/2003 - 7/31/2003
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