The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, NY



Thomas Sully in the Metropolitan

September 19, 2000 ­ January 7, 2001


"Thomas Sully in the Metropolitan," on view from September 19, 2000, through January 7, 2001, features a selection of approximately 30 paintings and drawings by this important and influential 19th-century American portraitist. Drawn exclusively from the Metropolitan's collection, the works span the most creative and productive years of the artist's career, from around 1810 through the 1840s, during which time he rose to a position of preeminence as America's leading portrait painter.

In addition to the artist's portrayals of the wealthy and socially prominent, the exhibition includes Sully's intimate and engaging studies of his family and friends, as well as a selection of drawings and other graphic works. A number of the works on view were given to the Museum by the artist's grandson, Francis Thomas Sully Darley.

The exhibition complements "Queen Victoria and Thomas Sully," on view at the Metropolitan from September 19 through December 31, 2000, a display of approximately 35 works documenting the creation of Sully's celebrated 1838 portrait of Queen Victoria. (left: Queen Victoria, 1838, oil on canvas, 94 x 58 inches, Signed at bottom: TS 1838, Collection of Mrs. Arthur A. Houghton Jr., on loan toThe Metropolitan Museum of Art; right: Queen Victoria, 1838, oil on canvas, 36 x 28 3/8 inches, Sign and inscribed lower right: TS. London May 15th 1838. My original study / of the Queen of England, Victoria 1st / Painted from life/ Buckingham House, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Thomas Sully (1783-1872), born in England but brought to America as a child, received early training both as a miniaturist and painter in oils. Determined to improve his technique, he returned England in 1809 to study with Benjamin West. However it was the glamorous portraits of British artist Thomas Lawrence, with their bravura brushwork and lush color, that impressed him most and that he rapidly learned to emulate. Returning to America, he eventually settled in Philadelphia, where his stylish and elegant portraits were soon much in demand among the city's elite. Although Sully's sitters included many prominent men of the day - among them Andrew Jackson and the Marquis de Lafayette - he was best known for his portraits of women. According to one admiring critic, "His female portraitures are oftentimes poems, - full of grace and tenderness," with eyes that "are liquid enough and clear enough to satisfy even a husband - or lover."

Highlights of the exhibition include Sully's Mrs. Katherine Matthews (1813), an early example of his assimilation of Lawrence's dashing style, and William Gwynn (1821), one of Sully's most engaging and spontaneous portraits of men. Sully's continued indebtedness to Lawrence is seen in the 1845 Mrs. Jane Montgomery, who gazes alluringly out at the viewer as she toys with her necklace. By contrast, Sarah Annis Sully is an honest and affectionate portrayal of his wife. Sully's portrait of his daughter Jane Cooper Sully Darley and her son Francis is dated ca. 1839, soon after the completion of his acclaimed portrait of Queen Victoria. One of his most ambitious works, it shows mother and son posed amid various classical symbols of fidelity and filial devotion. The exhibition also includes a striking self-portrait (ca. 1821), in which the artist turns to look at the viewer, brush in hand, as if momentarily interrupted in his work.

"Thomas Sully in the Metropolitan"is organized by Carrie Rebora Barratt, Associate Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture and Manager of The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art at the Metropolitan Museum. Exhibition design is by Michael Langley, Exhibition Designer, with graphics by Constance Norkin, Graphic Designer, and lighting by Zack Zanolli, Lighting Designer.

The Eugénie Prendergast Exhibitions of American Art are made possible by a grant from Jan and Warren Adelson.

rev. 6/17/00

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For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/2/11

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