Mrs. Thomas Gage
1738 - 1815
Mrs. Thomas Gage, 1771
Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 in
In 1771, Copley left his native Boston for a six-month stay in New York, where he accepted numerous portrait commissions. His first subject was Margaret Kemble Gage, the American-born wife of General Thomas Gage, commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America (who had sat for a portrait by the artist in 1768).
Mrs. Gage wears a turbanlike swath of drapery, a silk caftan over a lace-trimmed chemise, and an embroidered belt - a Turkish-style costume that enhances her languid pose. Such clothing was fashionable at British fancy dress balls, but since masquerade balls were not held at the time in New York, Mrs. Gage would have had no occasion to wear the costume outside the studio. Her faraway gaze suggests pensive thought and intellectuality, implying that she was not preoccupied with trivial matters. This is the first painting in which Copley depicted a woman in such exotic clothing or in such a state of melancholic reverie.