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Thomas Sully carte-de-visite – AA/PG Library

Sully reduced recto: Thomas Sully
(born Horncastle, Lincolnshire, England, 1783; died Philadelphia, PA,1872)

rear: Carte-de-visite photographer: H.G. DeBurlo, Philadelphia, PA

During his lifetime, Thomas Sully was one of the most prominent portrait painters in the United States with over two thousand portraits attributed to him.  After the death of Gilbert Stuart, he was probably the United States' most prominent American portrait painter.

Born in England, Sully emigrated to the United States in 1792. He established his first studio in Richmond, Virginia by 1804 and subsequently moved to New York City (where, for a time, he worked as a studio assistant for John Trumbull, the American artist), then Hartford, Connecticut (during which he went up to Boston, Massachusetts to meet Gilbert Stuart). He finally settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1807 where remained for the rest of his life.

Sully attracted notice for his new studio by announcing to paint thirty portraits for the first thirty customers for thirty dollars each. From this humble start, Sully's reputation as a portrait painter grew which brought him a steady flow of commissions throughout the rest of his career. (A price list from 20 years later shows how much more he eventually could charge). During his lifetime, his portraits included the Marquis de Lafayette, James Polk, Andrew Jackson, and the highlight of his career, Queen Victoria (during a visit to England from 1837-38).

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has several works by Sully including his painting of Daniel La Mott and the National Portrait Gallery also has several portraits including a self-portrait from 1815. The National Portrait Gallery also holds many objects from Sully's studio including his paint brushes, easel, and palette.  The Smithsonian Libraries collection has many books on Sully as well as this carte-de-visite. —Doug Litts

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