English-born Thomas Sully (June 19, 1783 – November 5, 1872) was one of America’s great portrait artists. He became a professional at age 18 in 1801. He studied under Gilbert Stuart in Boston in 1807 and with Benjamin West in London in 1809. He made Philadelphia his permanent home in 1810. By 1812, the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts gave him an honorary membership.
Sully was most famous for his portraits of many famous people including Presidents, actors, military leaders, and even traveled to London to paint a full-length portrait of Queen Victoria, but he also did a number of “fancy” paintings, as they were called, that were more imaginative, such as subjects from history and literature. He was best known for his ability to bring drama and theatricality to his works.
In 1811, he painted a portrait of the well-known London stage actor George Frederick Cooke, who was touring America, in his most celebrated role as Richard III. The painting contrasts the malignant nature of the character with the gentle nature of a statue of the Virgin. As fate would have it, Cooke died of alcoholism soon afterwards, giving Sully’s career a boost.
During Sully’s career, which lasted 70 years, he produced some 2,600 paintings.
The Milwaukee Art Museum is presenting Thomas Sully: Painted Performance from October 11, 2013 through January 5, 2014. The exhibit features about 80 works from public and private collections.
On Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 1:30 pm, the Milwaukee Art Museum will feature a gallery talk on the Sully exhibit given by William Rudolph, Dudley J. Godfrey Jr. Curator of American and Decorative Arts and Director of Exhibitions.
Admission price to the MAM is $17 for adults and $14 for seniors and students. Members, kids age 12 and under, and Wisconsin K-12 teachers get in free.