Portrait of Cooper Penrose
Portrait of Cooper Penrose, 1802
Oil on canvas
51-3/8 x 38-3/8 in.
Cooper Penrose traveled from Ireland to Paris in 1802 to commission David, the most famous painter in Europe, to paint his portrait. Reflecting the artist's mature portrait style, this painting shows the subject in three-quarter-length view, seated before a bare wall. By keeping accouterments to a minimum, David avoids indicating the sitter's rank and lineage.
Penrose, a British-born member of a prominent Quaker family, was a successful businessman and landowner but was criticized by the Society of Friends for his lavish tastes. The commissioning of this spartan portrait may have been intended to combat that criticism.
David brings the sitter down to earth by positioning the head lower on the canvas than is traditional in French portraiture. Attention is drawn to the brilliantly painted head and hands, which form a triangle in the center of the composition.