Mother and Son

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

Date: 1840

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 57 x 45 3/8 in. (144.8 x 115.3 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Bequest of Francis T. Sully Darley, 1914

Accession Number: 14.126.5


This grand, allegorically rich portrait of Sully's daughter Jane Cooper Sully Darley (1807-1877) and her son Francis Thomas Sully Darley (d.1914) has provoked many interpretations, the most ambitious of which equates mother and son with the mythological figure of Penelope, the ideal wife of Odysseus, and Telemachus, her perfect son. Sully filled the composition with attributes of blithe family life: the spray of ivy clinging to the wall is the emblem of a faithful wife; the scene on the urn--Hermes bringing the infant Dionysus to be nurtured by the nymphs--alludes to the duties of motherhood; the boy's foot lightly resting on his dog connotes fidelity and loyalty.