Sully, Lawrence - portrait of a Southern Lady

This miniature was acquired as a single lot, together with the adjacent portrait which is currently tentatively attributed to Thomas Sully.

The two miniatures were acquired at a public auction in Columbia, SC where they were described as "Continental school (late 19th century)" with the stated provenance "Property from the estate of a Southern lady".

The auction description was incorrect for this miniature, as the portrait is considered to have been painted in America at some date from around 1795-1800.

The case is well made and believed to be American made, in a manner which evolved from a style previously developed in Ireland.

This has hair under glass on the rear of the case, but with the rear glass only covering part of the reverse. In contrast most British miniatures with rear glass had the glass covering most of the reverse of the case.

Although possibly by an unknown artist, this miniature has been attributed in the interim to Lawrence Sully (1769-1804) who emigrated from Ireland to the United States in 1792 with his actor parents.

He had already trained as a miniature painter at the Royal Academy in London before he arrived in Charleston in 1792.

Sully worked in the area until he moved to Norfolk in 1801, and then Richmond until his death in 1804. Thus these locations fit with the provenance of an estate in Columbia SC.

The pose of this sitter is the same as three miniatures by Sully which are illustrated as figs 230-232 in Johnson. One of these, fig 232 of a girl, is shown here in black and white.

Also shown for comparison is another miniature of a man, they are both signed Sully, although he did not always sign his work.

Being unsigned, and given the hair style of the sitter, it seems the miniature of the lady would need to be one of Lawrence Sully's early works, painted around 1795.

Johnson comments "Lawrence Sully's miniatures rarely rise above the level of the primitive. The treatment is linear, with little facial modelling and stiff, somewhat awkward body forms. Pale skin tones and light-colored backgrounds make for a blond tonality overall." (The background of this miniature is paler than appears in these images.)

However, a kind visitor has some doubts about the attribution to Lawrence Sully and so until there is clearer evidence one way or the other, the attribution is unconfirmed.

An anonymous visitor has questioned the brightness of the background. That was my fault. I have since tried to modify the image to make it closer to the original. However, even now the image is still too violet, the actual miniature having a pale sky blue background.

Although not attributed there to Lawrence Sully, two miniatures which are possibly by him can be seen at A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish ... One being of Sarah Moses Levy and one of Chapman Levy. 1251a

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did the kind visitor mention any details that point to the piece not being a Sully? Perhaps Sully didn't use a bright blue background, etc?