John Singleton Copley’s 1758 painting of “Mary and Elizabeth Royall” is prominently displayed in the new Art of the Americas wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Thanks to a multi-faceted community collaboration, Copley’s portrait of the adolescent daughters of Isaac Royall Jr. now hangs at the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford as well, in a large, high-quality reproduction.
In a generous example of nonprofit partnership, the Museum of Fine Arts offered an archival replica of the painting for display in the Isaac Royall House at cost. The Medford Arts Council — a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency — awarded funds for the purchase. An anonymous private foundation provided a grant to frame the reproduction, a task undertaken by Stanhope Framers in Somerville.
Copley was just twenty years old in 1758 when he completed this work, one of his few paintings of children, and believed to be his first double portrait. According to Erica E. Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings, Art of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Isaac Royall Jr.’s “love for fine things is evident in the portrait he commissioned of his daughters, which was designed to show off the family’s wealth and social status: the girls are dressed in expensive silk gowns trimmed with imported lace, and the velvet drape behind them was intended to bring to mind portraits of English aristocrats who had themselves painted in such a setting. Even the pets in the picture conveyed status: the King Charles spaniel was a favorite of British royalty, and the hummingbird perched on Mary’s finger may have been imported from the West Indies, where Royall conducted profitable trade.”
The new reproduction is displayed in the Best Room in the 1737 Royall mansion, surrounded by original eighteenth-century woodwork. Guided tours of the site, including the adjacent Slave Quarters building, are available on Saturdays and Sundays through October.
- Submitted by Tom Lincoln, Royall House director