Mrs. James Smith (Elizabeth Murray), by John Singleton Copley, 1769, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Elizabeth Murray, Portrait
In the summer of 1769, James Smith, Elizabeth Murray's second husband, died in early August after a lengthy illness. In the opinion of her friends, Elizabeth's own health had suffered as a result of the long hours she spent nursing her invalid husband. Shortly after she was widowed, Elizabeth began to make plans to leave America and travel to England and Scotland for a long visit; she had not been back to England since 1754 nor to Scotland since the early 1740s.
Her good friend Christian Barnes, who thought the idea of the trip outlandish, nonetheless supported her friend and kept her company while she sat for this portrait. The artist, John Singleton Copley, had become a notable portrait painter in Boston and remained so until his departure for England in 1774.
It is possible that Elizabeth decided to have this portrait made as a keepsake for family and friends as she prepared for a long journey. By this time, Copley had already painted portraits of her niece Dolly and her brother James.
For more on Copley's work, colonial fashion, and the objects in this painting, see the interactive portrait.
See Patricia Cleary, Elizabeth Murray: A Woman’s Pursuit of Independence in Eighteenth-Century America, University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.