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John Singleton Copley (1738—1815) portrait and history painter


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Rufus Hathaway


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Painter. Also a medical doctor. Chiefly a portraitist, he also painted landscapes and other views, primarily as elements of interior design, and made wood carvings and frames. Born in Freetown, Massachusetts, he moved with his family several times before they settled in Bristol, Rhode Island, in the mid-1780s. Hathaway may have worked as an apprentice ship-carver or decorative specialist but was otherwise presumably self-taught as an artist. In the 1790s he worked as a painter in several Massachusetts localities before taking up the study of medicine in 1796. The previous year he had settled at Duxbury, Massachusetts, where he lived for the rest of his life. As the town's only physician, he apparently painted infrequently. Best-known among Hathaway's portraits, the imaginatively conceived Lady with Her Pets (Metropolitan Museum, 1790) combines naively rendered but acutely observed detail, exuberant pattern, flattened space, and immobilized forms. The seated client, tentatively identified as Molly Wales Fobes (later Mrs. Elijah Leonard), poses with her cat and two perched birds, while a pair of large, mothlike insects animates the empty space beside her head. Her high-style finery culminates in two huge, eye-catching feathers that sprout from her coiffure, converting recent French fashion into provincial whimsy. In other portraits as well, Hathaway translated into a personal idiom his contact with eighteenth-century portrait conventions, probably known from European prints and from work of more sophisticated American artists such as John Singleton Copley.

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