It's Different for Squirrels
April 16, 2006
Over the past two years, I have established a habit of posting an artistic squirrel on this site each year for Easter. [Here are links to the 2004 and 2005 versions.]
German artists have provided past years' squirrels, so for a change of pace this Easter season let's turn to a North American great, John Singleton Copley, who painted this image of a squirrel in durance vile:
If you click on the picture, you can see the entire painting of which this poor little fellow is only a part. This is Copley's 1765 portrait of his stepbrother, Henry Pelham, age 16 at the time. The original hangs, with many another Copley, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. And at this point, one link begins to lead to another and this post runs off in directions I never expected when I began it, including a foray into an authentic Early American intellectual property dispute involving a Famous Patriot.
Henry Pelham was himself an artist and in 1770 made an important contribution to the iconography of the American Revolution when he produced the famous image of the Boston Massacre centering on the death of Crispus Attucks. Pelham's original is nowhere to be found, but its content has been preserved through contemporary watercolor copies such as this one:
Unfortunately for Pelham, it seems he lent one of his drawings of the event to a friend -- one Paul Revere -- who promptly adapted it into an engraving of his own, taking sole credit for it and putting it out for sale on the colonial streets several weeks before Pelham's version appeared. By the time Pelham's came out, public demand had been sated -- "Massacre fatigue" had apparently set in -- and there was little market left for it. Pelham wrote a stern letter to the unscrupulous Mr. Revere:
When I heard you was cutting a plate of the late Murder, I thought it impossible as I knew [you] was not capable of doing it unless you copied it from mine and as I thought I had intrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of Honour and Justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and trust I reposed in you.
But I find I was mistaken and after being at great Trouble and Expence of making a design, paying for paper, printing &c, find myself in the most ungenerous Manner deprived not only of any proposed Advantage but even of the expence I have been at as truly as if you had plundered me on the highway.
If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so. However, I leave you to reflect and consider one of the most dishonourable Actions you could well be guilty [of],
Ultimately a Loyalist in his sympathies, in 1776 Pelham left Boston for London, where he developed a reputation as a miniaturist. He drowned while traveling in Ireland in 1806.
And what of the squirrel?
The further history of young Pelham's exploited and put-upon squirrel is unknown. I would like to imagine that he made a daring escape from his chains and after many picaresque treetop adventures found safety in Montreal, where he fell in with une bonne écureuil canadienne, founded a circus troupe and lived to a ripe old age surrounded by artistic offspring. It's a nice legend.
Happy Easter to all.
Easter Squirrel - kin to the Easter Beagle?
Hoppy Day to you, too!
Posted by: Cowtown Pattie | April 16, 2006 at 06:33 PM