(American, c. 1707–c. 1752)
Oil on canvas
Framed: 141.5 x 117.5 x 7.5 cm (55 11/16 x 46 1/4 x 2 15/16 in.); Unframed: 127 x 101.5 cm (50 x 39 15/16 in.)
Gift of the John Huntington Art and Polytechnic Trust 1919.1006
Much remains unknown regarding Robert Feke’s life, including his birth and death dates.
Called “the greatest merchant on this Continent” in his obituary, Apthorp helped transform Boston into one of the key commercial centers in the American colonies. When the fashionable painter Robert Feke came to town, Apthorp commissioned this elegantly tailored and confidently posed likeness of himself. The sailing ship in the distant background symbolizes Apthorp’s deep financial interests in the Atlantic trade, which included not only textiles, wine, and guns, but also slaves. In fact, the slave trade and its attendant commerce comprised a significant portion of colonial Boston’s economy until the decades after the Revolutionary War, when anti-slavery attitudes in New England gained momentum.
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