|John Singleton Copley
Sarah Tyler Savage
(Mrs. Samuel Phillips Savage),
Mrs. Savages perfectly erect posture makes the portrait appear rigid. Her knees are suggested under the folds of her dress at bottom right. Copley seems to have struggled with the foreshortening of the legs and the left arm, and this awkwardness adds to the stiffness of the image. The womans right forearm rests on the marble top of a fountain pedestal. Copley painted the water that flows from a horizontal slot in the pedestal with long, arching brushstrokes of white and gray paint, and he used reddish brown to convey a shadow at the bottom right of the stream. The loosely painted landscape background includes clusters of tall, narrow trees at the left and right sides of the painting; the vertical lines of the trees and the low horizon accentuate Mrs. Savages upright posture. The colors in the sky range from gray and pink at the top to blue and peach toward the horizon.
Little personal record of Sarah Savage survives except for two letters that Samuel wrote to her during trips away from Boston. In one undated letter, Samuel advises her to get a receipt if she decides to buy a slave named Cloe.5 The other letter, written in July, 1747, is addressed informally to "Sally" and expresses Samuels wish to return home before planned. He explains that he will, however, keep his original schedule lest Sarah "discover the Fickleness of my Temper, and my over Fondness of Seeing you." Savage concludes, "Pray always for me that in all the Changes of Life I may be by Gods Grace enabled to Surmount all Difficulties & Temptations, and at last be victorious in Christ my Lord."6 According to a manuscript genealogy in one of Samuel Savages diaries, "Sarah. . . died in Childbed a few hours after delivery with a Dead female child.at 2 oClock on a Sabbath Day" in February of 1764.7 Shortly after Sarahs death Samuel purchased sixteen mourning rings from Boston silversmith William Simpkins (17041780) for distribution to friends and family members.8 The year after Sarahs death Samuel Savage moved to a seventy-five acre farm and grist mill in Weston, Massachusetts, where he experimented with crops and recorded meteorological and astronomical observations.9 Samuel married two more times: in 1767 to Bathsheba Thwing Johnston (17251792) and in 1794 to Mary Meserve (d. 1810).10 Johnston was the widow of Thomas Johnston, the craftsman who probably made the frames for Copleys portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Savage.
Samuel Savage was a merchant and an entrepreneur in the shipping insurance business. He was the oldest child of Arthur Savage (16801735)a wealthy sea captain, merchant, and public official whose estate was valued at more than 5,000 poundsand Faith Phillips Savage (16901775).11 In 1741 Samuel began a short-lived business partnership with David Jeffries.12 After working independently for about a decade, Savage accepted his younger brother Arthur as his partner. The Savage brothers sold Bohea tea, coffee, chocolate, raisins, rice, indigo, sugar, molasses, rum, brandy, raisins, snuff, beef, cheese, flour, salt-fish, pepper, and ginger.13 Beginning in 1756 Samuel also sold insurance to fellow merchants who wanted to protect their precarious investments at sea. The partnership of Samuel and Arthur Savage dissolved in 1764, because the older brother proved to be an ardent patriot and the younger one a Loyalist.
Samuel held a number of public offices in Boston. He served as a constable in 1742, a clerk of the market in 1749 and 1750, and a selectman in 1760 and 1761.14 Savage is believed to have participated in 1765 in the Liberty Tree protest in which Andrew Oliverthe Secretary of the province whose job it was to distribute stamps under the Stamp Actwas hung in effigy. On December 15, 1773 Savage moderated the meeting during which the Boston Tea Party was planned. In 1774 he was chosen to be Westons representative in the Provincial Congress. In 1776 he was appointed to a nine-member Board of War and served as its president until the board was dissolved in 1781. Savage was also a judge of the Inferior Court of Middlesex County (17751782) and of the Court of Common Pleas (17821797).15
The fountain is a prominent element in Sarah Savages portrait, and Copley painted at least five other women next to one: Abigail Allen Belcher (Mrs. Jonathan Belcher) (1756, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada), Mary Turner Sargent (Mrs. Daniel Sargent) (1763, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), Alice Hooper (Mrs. Joseph Fowle, Mrs. Joseph Cutler) (about 1763, United States Department of State), Catherine Osborne Sargent (Mrs. Epes Sargent II) (1764, private collection), and Rebecca Boylston (Mrs. Moses Gill) (1767, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).18 None of Copleys male subjects is posed with a fountain.19 Each of Copleys fountains is unique, and only Mrs. Savage and Mrs. Sargent are represented with water cascading from a slot in a pedestal or a wall. Joseph Blackburn painted a similar architectural element in his Mrs. David Chesebrough (Margaret Sylvester) (fig. 1) nearly ten years earlier than Copley used the form; further research might determine whether Copley borrowed the fountain from Blackburn or from an English mezzotint. That Mrs. Savages dress would be wet if she were sitting in the manner depicted further demonstrates that the fountain was either invented or borrowed from another artist and not a part of the sitters actual surroundings.
Copleys portraits of Samuel and Sarah Savage are documented by a receipt, which reads as follows:
The year 1764, which appears not only on the receipt but also in an inscription on Samuels portrait, is an approximate date for the completion of Sarahs. However, several facts also point to 1763 as a date when Copley might have painted her portrait. In April of that year Samuel Savage paid the craftsman Thomas Johnston for a frame that is believed to be the one on Sarah Tyler Savage (Mrs. Samuel Phillips Savage).22 Since Sarah died in childbirth in early February 1764, she probably sat for her portrait no later than the fall of 1763. Had she posed after that time, she would have been noticeably pregnant when she sat for Copley and her portrait might have reflected that fact. Of course, Copley could have painted Mrs. Savages body as though she were not pregnant by modeling the figure in whole or part on a mezzotint or a lay figure, both of which he is known to have used in order to ease the demands on his sitters.23 If Copley used such a device in the course of portraying Mrs. Savage, it would also help to account for the awkwardness of the draftsmanship in the painting.
2. Tyler is identified as a "Ship Chandler" in the inventory of his estate, April 22, 1758, Suffolk County Probate, Boston, record 11767. One of the witnesses of Tylers inventory was Arthur Savage, who was Sarahs father-in-law.
3. Brattle Square 1902, 110, 245.
4. Park 1914, 2526; and Dresser 1961,  and 38 n. 3.
5. Samuel Phillips Savage to Sarah Tyler Savage, n.d., Samuel Phillips Savage Papers, VI, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Box 16941797, folder n.d.
6. Samuel Phillips Savage to Sarah Tyler Savage, July, 1747, Samuel Phillips Savage Papers, VI, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Box 16941797, folder n.d.
7. "The Genealogy of Savage in America," Samuel P. Savage Diary, 1783, Samuel Phillips Savage Diaries, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. A letter of sympathy from Samuel Woodward to Samuel Phillips Savage describes Mrs. Savage as "or Friend and yr dear Consort." Woodward to Samuel Phillips Savage, February 23, 1764. Savage received a second condolence letter from Samuel L. Cooke, written February 15, 1764, both in the Samuel Phillips Savage Papers, II, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Box 17631783, folder 1764.
8. Bill, February 17, 1764, Savage Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Box 1, folder 17641769. For background on Simpkins, see Kane 1998, 89299.
9. Samuel Savages farming activities are documented in the Samuel Phillips Savage Diaries, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.
10. Park 1914, 25.
11. Ibid., 19.
12. Savages business career is detailed in Ibid., 2324.
13. The Boston Gazette and Country Journal, September 13, 1762 and December 12, 1763.
14. For Savages public career, see Park 1914, 2324 and Riley 1982, 17.
15. Adams-Savage 1910, 32736; Park 1914, 24; Dresser, 1961, 33; and Dickson and Lucas 1976, 9394 and 11521.
16. Prown 1966, I, 41 and 54 n. 3.
17. Costume notes are based on the authors conversation with Claudia Brush Kidwell, May 3, 1999. See also, Carol Troyen, "Mrs. James Warren (Mercy Otis)," in Rebora 1995, 194.
18. For a recent discussion of Copleys portraits that include fountains, see Lovell 1998.
19. A possible exception is Thaddeus Burr (175860, St. Louis Art Museum), which depicts a man leaning on a stone pedestal that is decorated with a relief sculpture of a woman pouring water from a horn.
20. Louisa Dresser first identified the volume in Samuel Savages portrait as a letter-book (1961, 33).
21. Copleys receipt is in the collection of the Worcester Art Museum and was given by Henry Savage, Jr., a descendant of Mrs. Savage. Copleys portraits of the Savages were copied by the nineteenth-century American painter Francis Alexander (private collection) and again by Boston artist Frances Chamberlain Brand (winter 191112, ex. coll. Lawrence Park, current location unknown).
22. In 1764 Samuel Savage purchased an updated rococo-style frame with open-cut-work for his own portrait. Samuel Phillips Savage, account with Thomas Johnston, August 20, 1762September 8, 1764, Samuel Phillips Savage Papers, II, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Box 17631783, folder 1764. See also, Hitchings 1973, 116 and Heckscher 1995, 145.
23. Lovell 1998, 2124, 29.