Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art  
Home Donate Contact Us


  SAMA Collections



collections > permanent collection > paintings >THOMAS SULLY
Thomas Sully
(American, b. England, 1783-1872)
Portrait of Lord David Montague Erskine, (1776-1855)1830
Oil on canvas, 19 1/4” x 14 3/4”
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John T. Jacobus in recognition of Museum founder Sean M. Sullivan, T.O.R. (96.012)


Lord David Montague Erskine was Secretary of the British Legation, British Minister to Washington, and brother-in-law of General Thomas Cadwalader, who commissioned Thomas Sully to paint this portrait in 1830.  Sully, who epitomized the romantic strain in American portraiture before the Civil War, employs a warm palette and loose brushwork to invest his subject with life and emotion.  Flushed cheeks, tousled hair, and a reddish backdrop suggest an underlying passion that belies the studied indifference of the sitter. Fluid, dashing brushwork conveys a sense of vitality as well, giving the portrait a momentary quality as if the subject had been caught just as he turned to face the viewer.  Sully’s ability to mediate between the formal aspects of portraiture and the inherent life of the sitter was much admired by his contemporaries, and he enjoyed a long and successful career.


Born to actor parents, Sully immigrated with his family to Charleston, South Carolina, while the artist was still a boy.  Early art training came from several different instructors, among whom was his brother, Lawrence, who had established himself as a painter of miniature portraits in Virginia.  A trip to Boston in 1807 brought Sully into contact with Gilbert Stuart, then America’s leading portrait painter, who graciously allowed the younger artist to watch over his shoulder while he worked on a portrait.  A year later, Sully traveled to England, where he completed his studies under renowned portraitist Sir Thomas Lawrence.  On his return to the United States, Sully settled permanently in Philadelphia, becoming a prominent figure in the city’s art scene as well as a teacher and mentor to a number of rising talents.  Over the course of his seventy-plus year career, he painted many of the era’s noteworthy people, including John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Queen Victoria, who sat for him in 1837 on a second trip to England.