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Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin (Sarah Morris)

John Singleton Copley, American, 1738 - 1815

Made in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, North and Central America


Oil on ticking

61 5/8 × 48 inches (156.5 × 121.9 cm) Framed: 67 1/2 × 54 1/2 × 2 inches (171.5 × 138.4 × 5.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 201, American Art, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Bequest of Mrs. Esther F. Wistar to The Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1900, and acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art by mutual agreement with the Society through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Fitz Eugene Dixon, Jr., and significant contributions from Stephanie S. Eglin, and other donors to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as the George W. Elkins Fund and the W. P. Wilstach Fund, and through the generosity of Maxine and Howard H. Lewis to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1999

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Thomas Mifflin (1744-1800) and his wife, Sarah Morris Mifflin (1747?-1790), were the only Philadelphians painted by John Singleton Copley, the greatest artist in the American colonies prior to the Revolution. Mifflin was an ardent patriot and by the time this portrait was made, had established himself as a successful merchant; later he rose to the rank of major general in the Continental Army, and was elected the first governor of Pennsylvania after the United States achieved independence. Sarah Morris, who married Thomas in 1767, was an accomplished, witty, and supportive partner. In the portrait, Sarah is weaving a decorative fringe on a portable loom, which may symbolize the couple's endorsement of the colonists' boycott of English goods.

Famous as one of Copley's finest works soon after it was painted, this portrait shows the artist at the height of his powers. Born in Boston in 1738 into a poor immigrant family, Copley was self-taught. He developed a highly finished style that rendered the features, costumes, and settings of his subjects with remarkable accuracy. Copley always kept a keen eye on his competition, and he may have been inspired to paint both Sarah and Thomas Mifflin on a single canvas by his contemporary Charles Willson Peale, who had recently completed a group portrait of the Philadelphia Cadwalader family that was admired for its portrayal of family unity and affection. Here, Copley depicts not only the features and costumes of his sitters with his famed skill, but creates an image of marriage as an affectionate, equal partnership--an innovative concept in American portraiture at the time.

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