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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

Paul Revere, Jr. (1734–1818)

Boston’s most famous patriot-silversmith trained with his father, the French Huguenot silversmith Apollos Rivoire, also known as Paul Revere, Sr. (1702–1754), whose shop he inherited in 1754. With a fully equipped shop and many local patrons, he soon developed a thriving business and took on several apprentices himself. His clients included a number of family members (69.147) and neighbors, as well as political associates. He was married twice, first to Sarah Orne (ca. 1736–1773) and then to Rachel Walker (1745–1813), and was the father of sixteen children. An ardent revolutionary, Revere was active in political and civic organizations, including the Sons of Liberty. He began his military service in 1756 and was promoted in 1776 to the rank of lieutenant colonel. His role as a courier for the Committees of Correspondence is well known from his midnight ride on April 18, 1775, an event later immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. As a member of St. Andrew’s Lodge, Revere was a devoted Freemason for fifty years, and many of his clients were also members of Boston’s Masonic lodges. His shop was large and exceptionally active, supplying patrons with merchandise as well as services, including the importation of foreign goods (46.40.1). Like other colonial merchants, he sold wrought silver and jewelry alongside imported textiles, foodstuffs, tools, and hardware. Documented instances of his relationships with other Boston craftsmen indicate a steady exchange of goods and services.

Revere’s work in silver is often divided into two periods, preceding and following the Revolutionary War. The earlier period features some of his most creative and varied designs, still under the sway of the curvilinear Rococo style (46.40.1; 38.98). By the postwar years, Neoclassicism was the dominant design aesthetic, and the output of Revere’s shop increased and became more standardized, aided by equipment such as the flatting mill he acquired in 1785, which simplified the production of sheet silver. Objects like the quintessentially Neoclassical teapots and sugar urns (33.120.543; 33.120.546a,b) were produced with newfound ease.

Many American silversmiths found it necessary or desirable to diversify their professional activities, and Revere was no exception. Following the Revolution, he branched into other fields, advertising in city directories as “Revere & Son, bell and cannon founders,” a joint venture with his son Joseph Warren Revere. He also expanded into the areas of copperplate engraving, printing, and dentistry and later established a copper rolling mill in Canton, Massachusetts. A silversmith, merchant, entrepreneur, family man, and patriotic citizen, Revere led a full and successful life. His surviving daybooks, kept intermittently between 1761 and 1797 (now in the Massachusetts Historical Society), offer a valuable window on the workings of an eighteenth-century silversmith’s business. By the end of his life, his silversmith shop was but one aspect of a wide-ranging business enterprise, and he took to styling himself “Paul Revere, Esquire.” One artistic measure of his success is the survival of two portraits, both now belonging to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The earlier one portrays Revere as a young craftsman, painted by the fashionable John Singleton Copley (1768); the later, Revere as a prosperous elderly gentleman, painted by Gilbert Stuart (1813) five years before his death.