Artist Thomas Sully was born June 19, 1783 in Hornecastle, England. His parents were actors who emigrated to America with their children in 1792 and settled in Charleston, South Carolina. His brother and brother in law were his early art instructors, teaching him the art of making miniatures. In 1807 he would become a student of Gilbert Stuart before returning to London in 1808 to study under Benjamin West.
From 1810 until his death Sully lived primarily in Philadelphia, where he taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and for a time shared a studio with Charles Bird King. With the deaths of Charles Wilson Peale in 1827 and Gilbert Stuart in 1828 Sully emerged as the preeminent portraitist in America. In 1837-38 Sully would again return to England, this time to paint a portrait of the newly crowned Queen Victoria which was commissioned the Philadelphia chapter of the Society of the Sons of Saint George.
At his death in 1872 he left behind some 2631 works, approximately 2000 of which were portraits.
The portrait in our collection is the study for one of Sully’s full portraits entitled Portrait of Marquis de Lafayette (1825-26), which is on display in the National Portrait Gallery in Philadelphia.