Biografie von Thomas SULLY (1783-1872)

Birth place: Horncastle, Lincolnshire (England)

Death place: Philadelphia

Addresses: Philadelphia, from 1808, with frequent travel

Profession: Portrait, miniature, and figure painter, teacher

Studied: received first lessons in painting from his brother-in-law Jean Belzons and his own brother Lawrence Sully; Henry Benbridge, Norfolk, 1801; traveled to London, 1809-10, took a studio with Charles Bird King and studied with Benjamin West and Thomas Lawrence

Exhibited: PAFA , 1811-70 (and posthumously, 1876-78, 1905); NAD, 1827-52, 1864; Brooklyn AA, 1863-64, 1872, 1912

Member: PAFA

Work: PMA; PAFA; Am. Philos. Soc., Phila.; MMA; BMFA; NMAA; NPG; Yale Univ. Art Gal.; Detroit Inst. Art; Penn. Hist. Soc. has Sully's own register of the over 2000 portraits and over 500 subject paintings (all by title) painted by him

Comments: Youngest son of Matthew and Sarah Chester Sully, both actors. In 1792 the family moved to Charleston (SC). Thomas remained there until 1801 when an argument with his teacher, Belzons, apparently led him to leave Charleston and move to Richmond, VA, joining his brother Lawrence. The two brothers also worked briefly in Norfolk, VA, (1801), where Thomas may have studied briefly with Henry Benbridge. After Lawrence's untimely death in 1804, Thomas married Lawrence's widow and moved to NYC. Two years later he relocated to Hartford, CT, and then Boston, but in 1808 settled permanently in Philadelphia. After returning from a year's study in London (1809-10), Sully rose to become the leading portrait painter in Philadelphia, a position he held until his death. He was a truly Romantic portraitist, imbueing his sitters with a poetic quality that was enhanced by his fluid, painterly, brush work and soft pastel palette. He painted many of the most famous people of his day, including Andrew Jackson (CGA) and Thomas Jefferson (Amer. Philos. Soc.). In 1838 he went to England to paint a portrait of the new Queen Victoria (the original oil study is in the MMA); he also made occasional professional visits to Baltimore, Boston, Washington, Charleston, and Providence. Of his nine children, six survived infancy and all were either amateur or professional artists (Alfred, Blanche, Ellen, Jane, Rosalie, and Thomas), while his step-daughter Mary Chester Sully married the portrait painter John Neagle.

Sources: G&W; Hart, A Register of Portraits Painted by Thomas Sully; Biddle and Fielding, Life and Works of Thomas Sully; Rutledge, PA; Graves, Dictionary; Cowdrey, NAD; Rutledge, MHS; Swan, BA; Cowdrey, AA & AAU; Richmond Portraits; Karolik Cat.; Penna. Acad., Catalogue of Memorial Exhibition of Portraits by Thomas Sully; Sully, Recollections of an Old Painter"; Flexner, The Light of Distant Skies; Ormsbee, "The Sully Portraits at West Point." More recently, see Baigell, Dictionary; Gerdts, Art Across America, vol. 1 and 2; Encyclopaedia of New Orleans Artists, 368; 300 Years of American Art, 96."

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