The Discerning Eye: Five Perspectives on the Addison Collection
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This object is a member of the following groups (click any group name to view all objects in that group):Themes: MLC Portfolio: American Identity
Exhibitions: A Wildness Distant from Ourselves: Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century America
Themes: MLC Portfolio: Representing the Land
One of the leading artists of the nineteenth century, Thomas Sully (1783–1872) painted over twenty-five hundred portraits in his seventy-year career. Born in England and raised in South Carolina, Sully settled permanently in Philadelphia in 1808. Living to be almost ninety, he was considered "the" portrait painter in Philadelphia for over half a century.
Encouraged by Gilbert Stuart to study in London, Sully sought out Benjamin West as did all young American artists. Primarily a history painter, the aging master in turn directed the young artist to Sir Thomas Lawrence, then Britain's leading portraitist. Although Sully found Sir Lawrence's paintings to be "too much loaded with paint, and the red and yellow overpowering," he returned to Philadephia in 1810 with a looser and freer painterly style reflecting the influence of Lawrence and the emergence of Romanticism. Sully adapted this new style to his Philadelphia patrons, soon becoming known as "the American Lawrence."
Like Lawrence, Sully catered to a bourgeois society with aristocratic pretentions. The Whartons were a prestigious and established Philadelphia family and Sully painted portraits of several members of the clan. It is not yet known for certain which Thomas Wharton is depicted in this portrait, however the farm or country house in the upper left background may identify the sitter as Thomas Lloyd Wharton (1799–1869) who was raised on his father's county seat at Tacony and later became owner of a farm. The classical column behind the sitter lends the painting a formality and grandeur typical of grand manner portraits of aristocracy and aids in linking the sitter, and by extension his family, to this elite portion of society.
The fluid brushwork and vivid colors of this portrait would seem to date the painting to some time after Sully's return from Europe. Tom's tousled hair and far-off gaze are not only typical child-like attributes suggesting a dynamic, energetic personality, but are carefree, Romantic characteristics reflecting the elevation of emotion above intellect and intuition over judgment. The rather brooding landscape is yet another romantic element used to express inner emotionalism. Tom's fine features and creamy complexion are typical of Sully's idealized figures. As art historian Wayne Craven has noted, it appears that Sully never painted a person who was not handsome or beautiful.
This object was included in the following exhibitions:The Works, Addison Gallery of American Art, 11/7/1969 - 2/22/1970
Breaking Away: Paintings and Drawings of the Colonial and Federal Periods, Addison Gallery of American Art, 10/3/1980 - 11/2/1980
Boys and Girls, Men and Women, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/12/1990 - 6/10/1990
Faces of the Addison: Portraits from the Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/23/1994 - 7/31/1994
Presence of the Past: Decorative Arts at Phillips Academy, Addison Gallery of American Art, 1/21/1995 - 3/19/1995
Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/13/1996 - 7/31/1996
Framework: American Pictures and Frames, Addison Gallery of American Art, 1/16/1999 - 4/4/1999
Identity and Intention: Two Centuries of American Portraiture, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/4/2001 - 12/30/2001
Hair: Untangling a Social History, The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, 1/31/2004 - 6/6/204
Child's Play: Children from the Addison Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 10/29/2005 - 12/31/2005
The Discerning Eye: Five Perspectives on the Addison Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/4/2007 - 12/30/2007
Eye on the Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 1/19/2013 - 3/10/2013
Eye on the Collection: Artful Poses, Addison Gallery of American Art, 2/1/2014 - 3/30/2014
Eye on the Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/1/2017 - 7/30/2017
A Wildness Distant from Ourselves: Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century America, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/1/2019 - 7/31/2020
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