Harvard Book Store: Jane Kamensky discusses "A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley"


Wednesday, December 14, 2016, 7:00pm


Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


Harvard Book Store and Mass Humanities welcome JANE KAMENSKY—Professor of History at Harvard University and author of The Exchange Artist—for a discussion of her latest book, A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley.

About A Revolution in Color

Boston in the 1740s: a bustling port at the edge of the British empire. A boy comes of age in a small wooden house along the Long Wharf, which juts into the harbor, as though reaching for London thousands of miles across the ocean. Sometime in his childhood, he learns to draw.

That boy was John Singleton Copley, who became, by the 1760s, colonial America’s premier painter. His brush captured the faces of his neighbors—ordinary men like Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams—who would become the revolutionary heroes of a new United States. Today, in museums across America, Copley’s brilliant portraits evoke patriotic fervor and rebellious optimism.

The artist, however, did not share his subjects’ politics. Copley’s nation was Britain; his capital, London. When rebellion sundered Britain’s empire, both kin and calling determined the painter’s allegiances. He sought the largest canvas for his talents and the safest home for his family. So, by the time the United States declared its independence, Copley and his kin were in London. He painted America’s revolution from a far shore, as Britain’s American War.

An intimate portrait of the artist and his extraordinary times, Jane Kamensky’s A Revolution in Color masterfully reveals the world of the American Revolution, a place in time riven by divided loyalties and tangled sympathies. Much like the world in which he lived, Copley’s life and career were marked by spectacular rises and devastating falls. But though his ambivalence cost him dearly, the painter’s achievements in both Britain and America made him a towering figure of both nations’ artistic legacies.


"A pleasure to read from first page to last, Jane Kamensky’s exploration of the life, work and tumultuous times of John Singleton Copley is itself a masterpiece. Like all excellent portraitists, Kamensky probes deeply into the character of her subject, as deft with the small, revealing detail as she is with the sweeping strokes of landscape and setting. Both gripping narrative history and insightful art criticism, A Revolution in Color is a genre-busting tour de force." —Geraldine Brooks, author of The Secret Chord

"Beautifully written and elegant, A Revolution in Color gives us a vibrant and new perspective on the conflict between America and Great Britain, a conflict the ambitious John Singleton Copley embodied. Jane Kamensky enriches our understanding of this vital time in world history." —Annette Gordon-Reed, author of "Most Blessed of the Patriarchs"

"Richly resourced, prismatic, dynamic, factually and psychologically revelatory, and ebulliently spiked with political insights and ironies, Kamensky’s biography provides an intimate view of the American Revolution and its immediate aftermath as seen through the 'acute, penetrating' gaze of a masterful artist." —Donna Seaman for Booklist, starred review