Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2010 Issue

Frederick Copley: the passing glance

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Frederick S. Copley in 1852


By Bruce McKinney

Frederick Copley, water colorist [1828-1905]

Note: I acquired a portfolio of his watercolors and sketches in February,2010. Many examples are now accessible in a Wiki Bibliography I've organized to display his work. Links are provided at the end of this article.

His is a name that sounds familiar but the familiar, even famous, Copley who painted was John Singleton Copley [1738-1815]. They may have been related but I have no record of it. John Singleton Copley was born in America and moved to England, Frederick was born in England and moved to America. They were born almost a hundred years apart.

John Singleton Copley was an acclaimed professional painter, Frederick an amateur water colorist, by turns casual observer and keen recorder. We know he was uneven because he seems to have kept most of his work, both the highly conceived and the casually executed. His watercolors, by the evidence or lack of it, suggest he recorded for personal satisfaction, not public acclaim. He is a listed artist in the New-York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564-1860 [1957] and is also included in Who Was Who in American Art - 400 years of artists in America [1999] but there are no records of his work appearing at auction, possibly because he kept his paintings in a portfolio, sealed away. The portfolio dates to 1870 more or less. He pasted his watercolors securing them in the corners with a paste that didn't stain. His media was wove paper, the standard of the day. He wrote identifications under most and in many cases wrote detailed descriptions on the back. About five percent of his watercolors are painted on both sides.

For some understanding of 19th century watercolors I've read both "Drawn by New York" by Roberta J. M. Olsson of the New York Historical Society and "American Drawings and Watercolors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art" by Kevin J. Avery. Both provide perspective on the history of watercolor painting in America. Mr. Copley was born into the right family at the right time. His father Charles was a hydrographer, that is, chart publisher and one of the first in America in a field that took hold after the Revolution in response to the burgeoning need for maps and charts. In a list prepared by Peter J. Guthorn for his article The Last Independent Hydrographer for Imago Mundi in 1991 Charles Copley is No. 7 of 8 identified as "Chart Publishers after 1783." His was a recognized, if late, figure.

By age 15 Frederick is in the family business, the company name - Charles Copley & Sons, he and his brother Charles Jr. connected with the name if not yet necessarily the work of the enterprise. At 19, in 1847, he's painting and by 24 has executed most of the watercolors in his portfolio. Dated pieces continue to be posted but their scale and frequency decline. The last dated examples are executed in the late 1860's. Taken together, his watercolors, pen and pencil sketches seem appropriate to a mapmaker and contain perspective consistent with capturing the facts as he found them.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs<br>& Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Marcus A. Root, "<i>General Tom Thumb</i>" with parents, daguerreotype, circa 1846. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> William Saunders, <i>Sketches of Chinese Life and Character</i>, album with 50 hand-colored photographs, 1871-72. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Wilson A. Bentley, album of 25 microphotographs from glass<br>plate negatives, 1888-1927.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs<br>& Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Hilla & Bernhard Becher, <i>Anonyme Skulpturen, Eine Typologie technischer Bauten</i>, first edition inscribed, Düsseldorf, 1970. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Edward Ruscha, four seminal artist's books in original dust jackets.<br>$1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Typological set of more than 100 photographs of WWII fighter planes, 1942-45. $400 to $600.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b><br>Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes, <i>The Sweet Flypaper of Life</i>, first edition signed by authors, New York, 1955. $500 to $750.
  • <b>Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts, February 14th, 2016.</b>
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 9. HIERONYMUS. C.340-420. <i>Epistolae. WITH: Lupus de Oliveto. Regula Monachorum ...</i> US$ 20,000-30,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 47. FROST, A.B. 1858-1921. Shooting Pictures. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.<br>US$ 10,000-15,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 53. PICASSO, PABLO, RAOUL HAUSMANN, et al. ILIAZD, ed. Poesie de mots inconnus. 1949. US$ 8,000-12,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 64. BRIGGS, HENRY. 1561-1630. <i>The North Part of America</i>. [London: 1625]. Engraved by R. Elstracke. US$ 8,000-12,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 79. COPERNICUS, NICOLAUS. De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. 1566. US$ 80,000-120,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 80. DARWIN, CHARLES. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of ... US$ 70,000-90,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 87. NEWTON, ISAAC, SIR. Autograph Manuscript in Latin and English [n.p., early 1670s}. US$ 100,000-150,000
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 93. Dr. Kary Mullis' 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded to him for the invention of the Polymerase Chain Reaction. US$ 450,000-550,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 96.<br>CLEMENS, SAMUEL. Autograph Manuscript, nearly complete chapter 30 of <i>A Tramp Abroad</i>, c.1879.<br>US$ 20,000-30,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 105. GOLF. [MATHISON, THOMAS. d.1754.]<br><i>The Goff</i>. An Heroi-Comical Poem.<br>US$ 40,000-60,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 113. JOYCE, JAMES. 1882-1941. <i>Ulysses</i>. First Edition, Presentation Copy, Signed and Inscribed by Joyce on the half-title. US$ 40,000-60,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 120. LONDON, JACK. Autograph Manuscript of the short story "Flush of Gold". US$ 40,000-60,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 135. STEINBECK, JOHN. Autograph Manuscript of an unpublished short story. US$ 35,000-45,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 149. GERONIMO. BARRETT, S.M., ed. Geronimo's Story of His Life. 1906. US$ 12,000-18,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 165.<br>ENOLA GAY. LEWIS, ROBERT A. An official pilot's log, 1942 to 1946.<br>US$ 50,000-80,000.
  • <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b><br>Lot 14. Blaeu,<i>Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula</i>, 1635. Est. $14000-$16000
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