Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sully, Thomas

Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely
oil on canvas
214.5 × 142.5 cm (84.4 × 56.1 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA

Eliza Eichelberger Ridgely (1803 - 1867) was an American heiress, traveler, arbiter of fashion, and mistress of Hampton. This painting has something of an iconic status and been credited as an inspiration for the widespread American popularity of the harp in the 19th century. Fifteen-year-old Eliza Ridgely of a wealthy Baltimore merchant dreamily plucks the strings of an imported pedal harp. Her empire satin gown is accented by a regally draped shawl. In reality, however, it is doubtful whether Eliza actually had fingers so slender, arms so lengthy, or torso and thighs so svelte. Sully later admitted, "From long experience I know that resemblance in a portrait is essential; but no fault will be found with the artist, if he improve the appearance."

Thomas Sully (1783 -1872) was an English-born, American painter, mostly of portraits. Born to an English family of actors, Sully was nine years old when his parents brought their theatrical company to the United States.  Sully's paintings reveal his upbringing in the dramatic arts. He achieved fame and fortune as a portrait painter to the highest echelons of America society. Part of his success was due to his ability to flatter the sitter, for he seemed to have no qualms about 'improving' the appearance of what he was painting.

Sully's portraits of John Quincy Adams, who became President within the year, and then the Marquis de Lafayette appear to have brought him to the forefront of his day. Many famous Americans of the day had their portraits painted by him. His own index indicates that he produced 2631 paintings from 1801, most of which are currently in the United States. Though best known as a portrait painter, Sully also made historical pieces and landscapes.