Portrait of the Artist

Artist: Thomas Sully (American, Horncastle, Lincolnshire 1783–1872 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Date: 1821

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 17 1/8 x 14 in. (43.5 x 35.6 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Rosa C. Stanfield, in memory of her father, Henry Robinson, 1894

Accession Number: 94.23.3


This self-portrait, along with portraits of John Finley (94.23.2) and William Gwynn (94.23.1), was a gift to Sully's host in Baltimore from 1820 to 1821, the broker Henry Robinson. According to his register, Sully began the painting on May 8, 1821, and completed it on May 15. The artist is shown interrupted at his work, and emphasizes his profession through the paintbrush pointing to his sharply lit head. This device is common in self-portraits of artists, and Sully is thought to have adapted it from a similar work by Benjamin West, with whom he studied in London. Although Sully's brushwork is unusually restrained, its painterly quickness blends with the engaging spontaneity of the pose to create a sense of immediacy.