Thomas Sully: Painted Performance

February 8, 2014 – May 11, 2014


Thomas Sully
American, born England, 1783–1872
Frances Anne Kemble as Beatrice, 1833
Oil on canvas, 30 × 25 in. (76.2 × 63.5 cm)
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Bequest of Henry C. Carey (The Carey Collection), 1879.8.24
Courtesy of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

The American Romantic painter Thomas Sully (1783–1872) had a lifelong connection to and love for the theatre, associations that were critical components of his artistic imagination. When viewed through the lens of theatre, Sully’s portraits and numerous subject pictures take on a striking coherence., complementing one another and revealing the breadth and unity of his artistic production. Throughout his career, Sully continued to paint leading actors of the day— both in and out of character.

The theatricality of Sully’s paintings extends beyond subject matter. It also imbues his method of working and the ways in which his sitters perform. Sully orchestrated drama, performance and a heightened sense of activity to great effect throughout his long career.

All portraiture is, in effect, a performance: the artist, sitter and viewer each plays a role in the successful creation of the portrait. This exhibition is no different. Come see and be part of the show starting on February 7th in the Cowden Exhibition Hall, when the curtain goes up.

Thomas Sully: Painted Performance is organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) and curated by William Keyse Rudolph, The Dudley J. Godfrey Jr. Curator of American Art and Decorative Arts, MAM, and Carol Eaton Soltis, Project Associate Curator, Center for American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

A $5 special exhibition surcharge over general admission applies to view Thomas Sully: Painted Performance. This surcharge is waived for all Members and children 17 and under.