Artist Thomas Sully in Milwaukee

Victoria here, reporting on a wonderful exhibition at my local hang-out, the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Last year about this time I was observing the wonderful exhibition at the MAM from London’s Kenwood House.  Click here if you need a reminder.

This autumn we are fortunate to have a gathering of works from many museums for Thomas Sully: Painted Performance.  After it closes in Milwaukee in January, the exhibition will travel to the San Antonio Museum of Art February 7 through May 11, 2014.

 Lady with a Harp Eliza Ridgeway, 1818,
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
This is one of my favorite paintings in Washington and I usually breeze by to say hello on my annual forays to the capital. Now here she is in my front yard.
Andrew Jackson, 1845
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The Andrew Jackson portrait is very familiar to all Americans as the inspiration of the etching on the $20 bill.
Thomas Sully (1783–1872) was born in Lincolnshire, England, to a family in the theatrical business.  In 1792, they settled in Charleston, South Carolina.  Though young Tom often acted, his skills in sketching and painting were soon evident.  Eventually he worked with his brother Lawrence, also a painter. Tom moved around from Richmond, VA, to New York, and for a while to Boston to study with Gilbert Stuart, perhaps the young republic’s most renowned artist. Sully settled in Philadelphia in 1806; there he stayed for the rest of his life, other than time in 1809 studying in London with Benjamin West and later a London trip to paint the young Queen Victoria in 1837-38.
Queen Victoria, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Other versions of this painting hang in the Wallace Collection in London and the Royal Collection as well. Below, a full length version, not in this exhibition.
Queen Victoria, 1838
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
 Among the amazing 2300 pictures Sully painted are many American politicians and other citizens, both men and women. The focus of this MAM exhibition is performance, particularly on the stage.
 George Frederick Cooke, in the role of Shakespeare’s Richard III
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Famed Actress Frances Anne (Fanny) Kemble as Beatrice, 1833
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 
Sarah Esther Hindman as Little Red Riding Hood, 1833
  The Maryland State Archives, Photo by Harry Connolly
Sully not only painted actors; he also produced many paintings illustrating scenes from books and other “Fancy” pictures, many of which were reproduced for widespread purchase and display in everyday homes.
Prison Scene from James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Pilot”, 1841
Birmingham (AL) Museum of Art
Little Nell Asleep in Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop
Free Library of Philadelphia
Cinderella at the Kitchen Fire, 1843
Dallas Museum of Art
Among Thomas Sully’s most prized paintings are his many portraits, and particularly the adorable lad below, beloved to generations of MFA visitors.
The Torn Hat, 1820
© 2013, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 
Major Thomas Biddle, 1818
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
I am looking forward to rambling around among these pictures many times in the next couple of months.  Sully’s work has a luminosity I love. 
When this blog visited the Look of Love exhibition in Birmingham, we became acquainted with Tom Sully, great , great, great grandson of Thomas Sully and himself a renowned artist. For our interview with Tom, click here

This is the first Thomas Sully retrospective in thirty years, showing about eighty paintings. Thomas Sully: Painted Performance is organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum, co-curated by Dr. William Keyse Rudolph, the Museum’s Dudley J. Godfrey Jr. Curator of American Art and Decorative Arts and Director of Exhibitions, and Dr. Carol Eaton Soltis, Project Associate Curator of American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

4 thoughts on “Artist Thomas Sully in Milwaukee”

  1. These are beautiful – thank you! Wasn't he amazingly prolific? And I enjoyed the echo of Fanny Kemble in the portrait of the young Queen Victoria – just a matter of the pose, but still fun.

    I followed the link to your interview with young Tom Sully and enjoyed re-reading it.

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