John Quincy Adams

Thomas Sully American

Not on view

In his “Hints to Young Painters” (published posthumously in 1873), Sully wrote, with regard to painting a portrait: “The first sitting may be short, as pencil sketches on paper, of different views of the person, will be sufficient to determine the [com]position of the portrait.” In one or possibly two sittings with John Quincy Adams during December 1824, the artist made this watercolor study from life, an oil study (location unknown), and a bust-length portrait (National Gallery of Art, Washington), before painting the final oil picture (Philipse Manor, Yonkers) In the watercolor, Sully worked in layered and transparent washes to record the light source, his sitter’s pose, and the room’s embellishments, while capturing something of the character of both the sitter and his office. The small sketch in the bottom margin of the sheet indicates that Sully contemplated at least one variation in the final pose. Adams had been one of four candidates in the November 1824 presidential election, and Sully arrived in Washington in the interval between the electoral college’s indecisive vote on December 1 and the House of Representatives’ vote in Adams’s favor on February 9, 1825.

John Quincy Adams, Thomas Sully (American, Horncastle, Lincolnshire 1783–1872 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Watercolor, black chalk, and graphite on off-white laid paper, American

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