More about Daniel Crommelin Verplanck

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Sr. Contributor

The smug little smile that says, “I might only be nine years old, but I’m already richer than you’ll ever be,” is one of the clues that John Singleton Copley ever so delicately left for us about the lifestyles of the rich and famous in colonial America.

But Copley’s portraits were never just pictures of the people in them. They also served as the lofty statements that wealthy colonists wanted to make about themselves, especially about their social stature. So, except for the fact that Copley wanted us to know that Daniel was the OG frat bro who bought all of his salmon-colored shorts at Vineyard Vines before it was even a thing, this portrait is full of lies meant to make you feel sad about your own poor pathetic life.

Just having a Copley portrait was enough to be the envy of everyone in the thirteen colonies, especially in New York. The artist made only one trip to New York, so you best believe he only painted portraits of the most wealthy and important New York families. Just like the horrible family photos that line the mantle of your childhood home, these types of portraits were usually hung in public spaces meant for entertaining guests. Copley was a pretty smart cookie and, with no formal training, was able to figure out that portraits should accurately show the person but also bend the truth to make them seem more important than they actually were. 

Perhaps the original stoop kid, Daniel sits on what is supposed to be the front porch of his “upstate house.” Lie #1 is that the Verplancks’ home in upstate New York did not have the huge columns that Daniel sits between. Lie #2 is that, although the estate was called Mount Gulian, there was no actual mountain there. The mountain in the background of Daniel’s portrait was just meant to look nice, even though it sort of looks like a big lump coming out of the ground. (Did Copley ever even see a mountain before?)

The little squirrel on a golden leash is inarguably the best part of the whole painting. Remember how when you were a little kid and promised your parents you’d be really good at taking care of a pet because you were so responsible? Colonial parents had that same idea and got pets for their kids to teach them responsibility. Why Daniel’s parents couldn’t just get him a dog like everybody else is beyond me, but it does seem like having a squirrel would be pretty cool. But like the other parts of this portrait, the squirrel is ultimately a symbol of how much better Daniel is at life than you are. At nine years old, Daniel’s future is so bright, it’s a wonder that Copley didn’t paint little, designer sunglasses on him.