Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sneek Peek: Thomas Sully

Mrs. FitzGerald and her Daughter Mathilda, Thomas Sully, c.1857
Ogden Museum of Southern Art

In December of 2009, Dr. James Michael and Carolyn Fortino of Gretna Louisiana donated two works by the 19th century American painter, Thomas Sully. During his lifetime, Thomas Sully was one of the most prominent portrait painters in the United States. Born 1783 in England to the actors Matthew and Sarah Sully, Sully emigrated to Richmond, Virginia in 1792. Two years later, the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina. At the age of 12, he began studies with his brother-in-law Jean Belzons, a French miniaturist. He returned to Richmond in 1799 to study painting under his brother, Lawrence Sully. He began a professional career as a portrait painter in 1801 at the age of 18. In 1806 he moved to Philadelphia, where he spent the remainder of his life. His portraits included Marquis de Lafayette, James Polk, Andrew Jackson, and Queen Victoria, considered the highlight of his career and painted in London at the request of the St. George Society in 1837-1838.

Thomas Sully

Thomas Sully the painter was the great-uncle of the New Orleans based architect, also named Thomas Sully. Thomas Sully the architect was born in Mississippi City, Mississippi in 1855. He opened offices in New Orleans in 1881. His realized designs included the original Whitney Building, the St. Charles Hotel, and many large residencies on upper St. Charles Avenue, including the Picard House. Outside of New Orleans, his designs include the Vicksburg Hotel in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Shreveport Charity Hospital and the Caffery Sugar Hill in St. Mary Parish.

Portrait of a Young Woman (Mrs. FitzGerald) 1855, Thomas Sully
Ogden Museum of Southern Art
The two paintings by Thomas Sully generously donated by Dr. and Mrs. Fortino were originally commissioned by Colonel Thomas FitzGerald of Philadelphia. Colonel FitzGerald was an acclaimed orator, publisher, philanthropist and founder of the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team. He wrote many successful plays, and was the first controller in the public school system to insist successfully on the introduction of music into the public schools. He stumped for Abraham Lincoln, who became a friend. Lincoln appointed the Colonel's son, Riter Fitzgerald, as consul to Moscow.

Colonel Fitzgerald's large collection of paintings contained fine examples of many American and European painters including Sully, Neagle and Hamilton. He offered the collection to the Academy of Fine Art with the requirement that they be placed in a dedicated gallery to be called The FitzGerald Collection, but the offer was refused due to lack of room. Upon his death, the collection was divided among the family.
Portrait of a Young Woman (Mrs. FitzGerald) is an unfinished oil study of Colonel Fitzgerald's wife painted in 1855. It was acquired by the Fortinos from Christie's East, New York in 1997. Mrs. FitzGerald and her Daughter Mathilda is a fully finished painting. The date of completion is unknown, but we know that it was shown in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine art's Annual Exhibition in 1862. The painting was acquired by the Fortinos from Sotheby's New York in 1999. Mrs. Fitzgerald and her Daughter Mathilda was previously owned by Riter FitzGerald and eventually the sitter's great-granddaughter before going up for auction. These paintings were first re-united, study and portrait, in the Fortino's collection. The Ogden is honored to become home to these historic portraits.

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