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Thomas Sully's Painted Performances

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.

At 6:30pm there will be a lecture by Dr. Carol Eaton Soltis of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, exploring how Thomas Sully’s portraits, with their ability to engage the imaginations and emotions of viewers, are markedly different from those of his American peers.


The lecture is free with Museum admission.

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  • Bill

    Im in a gray sport coat, blie shirt, abd black trousers.

    February 7, 2014

  • Bill

    I had a chance to tour the exhibition Thursday night it is not to be missed.

    February 6, 2014

  • Karen

    Wish I could attend this, but I have an interview for a story that is going to be that evening. Have fun!

    February 6, 2014

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