Lucy Boylston was a member of one of the wealthiest families in prerevolutionary Boston. Her father, Thomas Boylston, ran a thriving importing business and owned considerable property in Boston, Roxbury, Brimfield, and Bedford, Massachusetts. In the early 1760s, the family purchased a mansion on...
Lucy Boylston was a member of one of the wealthiest families in prerevolutionary Boston. Her father, Thomas Boylston, ran a thriving importing business and owned considerable property in Boston, Roxbury, Brimfield, and Bedford, Massachusetts. In the early 1760s, the family purchased a mansion on School Street in Boston from Jacob Wendell and subsequently engaged John Singleton Copley, the leading artist in the colonies, to paint six portraits of family members to embellish the great house. In 1766 and 1767, the matriarch Mrs. Thomas Boylston (by then a widow), her sons Nicholas and Thomas II, and her daughters Rebecca and Mary all sat for Copley. This portrait of Lucy (Mrs. Timothy Rogers), another daughter, was painted posthumously, as she had died in 1759. The Boylston portraits all share a number of characteristics: they are all 50 by 40 inches (127 by 101.6 cm) in size and most retain their original matching and expensive rococo frames. Except for Rebecca, all the Boylstons are shown sitting in fashionable Chippendale chairs. Today the suite of portraits has been dispersed: Mrs. Thomas Boylston (Sarah Morecock), Nicholas Boylston, and Thomas Boylston II are in the Harvard University Portrait Collection, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Mrs. Benjamin Hallowell (Mary Boylston) is in the Detroit Institute of Arts; and Rebecca Boylston [1976.667] and Mrs. Timothy Rogers (Lucy Boylston) are in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Lucy Boylston is the least known of the group; only the basic facts of her life have been discovered. She was born in Boston in 1725, and she married Captain Timothy Rogers, a ship owner and merchant of Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1745 at the Brattle Square Church in Boston. She died in Gloucester in 1759 at the age of thirty-four, several years before Copley painted her. Copley is known to have painted three posthumous portraits of generous donors for Harvard College, but in those instances he had had his own previous paintings to use as a reference (or, in the case of Thomas Hollis, a sculpted bust from which to work). How he arrived at a likeness of Lucy Boylston Rogers is unknown, although portrait miniatures sometimes served such a purpose. (Smibert, for example, used a miniature of Daniel Oliver to include the dead boy’s likeness in his 1732 group portrait of the Oliver brothers [53.952].)Perhaps there was a miniature or another rendering of Lucy, now lost, that Copley was able to copy. It is apparent, nevertheless, that in his portrait, he captured her family resemblance to her sisters Rebecca and Mary. In all the Boylston portraits, including Mrs. Timothy Rogers (Lucy Boylston), Copley alluded to the wealth and good taste of the sitters through costumes and furnishings. Lucy is dressed in a low-cut gray gown trimmed with lace and surrounded by lustrous pink satin fabric; her garment is similar to the fashionable loose “undress” gowns worn by her sisters Rebecca [1976.667] and Mary in their portraits. Art historian Jonathan Prown describes her chair as a “stylish ‘French’ or ‘elbow’ chair, which either was made in Boston or imported from England [and] features upholstered armrests with decorative edge nailing, carved arm terminals, molded Marlborough legs, and Chinese fretwork knee brackets.” The chair exactly matches that in Mrs. Thomas Boylston (Sarah Morecock), “right down to the depiction of the edge trim or self-welting and the off-center seam on the back.” Prown speculates that Copley may have owned this expensive chair or, as he seems to have done from time to time, he may have used tracings to replicate it from one canvas to another. Due to condition problems, Mrs. Timothy Rogers (Lucy Boylston) has been exhibited rarely and is therefore less well-known than the other Boylston portraits. Several areas of the painting have suffered damage; the paint surface was abraded, and there were a number of tears in the canvas. The portrait remained together with Copley’s painting of Rebecca Boylston, descending in the Boylston family. Mrs. Timothy Rogers (Lucy Boylston) and Rebecca Boylston were on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1903 until they were bequeathed in 1976 to the Museum by Barbara Boylston Bean, a collateral descendent of the sitter. Notes 1. Jonathan Prown, “John Singleton Copley’s Furniture and the Art of Invention,”in American Furniture 2004, ed. Luke Beckerdite (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Chipstone Foundation, 2004), 161. Janet L. Comey
Since the sitter had died in 1759, the portrait was probably painted posthumously for the Boylston family. By 1830, H. B. Rogers, Boston. By 1873, William Boylston, Princeton, Mass.; by descent to the great-grandniece of the sitter, Louisa C. A. Nightingale (Mrs. Edwin J. Nightingale), Providence, R.I.; by 1903, to estate of Louisa C. A. Nightingale; by 1925, by descent to the niece of Louise C. A. Nightingale, Miss Barbara Hallowell Boylston, Leesburg, Florida; [ in 1941, Barbara Hallowell Boylston became Mrs. Paul Webster Bean, Auburn, Maine]; 1976, bequest of Barbara Boylston Bean to the MFA. (Accession Date: September 8, 1976)
Bequest of Barbara Boylston Bean