Sarah Russell Sullivan (1786–1831) Artist: Edward Greene Malbone (American, 1777–1807)


American Paintings and Sculpture

Not on view

This miniature of eighteen-year-old Sarah Russell celebrated her marriage to Richard Sullivan. The vogue for exchanging miniatures around the time of a wedding reflected a burgeoning romantic sensibility at the turn of the century. When choosing a partner for life, compatibility and affection weighed increasingly heavily in the decision, balanced by economic and social considerations. By the late eighteenth century, fathers no longer routinely chose their children's spouses; romantic love was seen as the most significant consideration, at least ideally, with family advantage playing a secondary role.

Friendship and romance between Sarah and Richard's siblings eventually drew them together, and they married on May 22, 1804, when Sarah was seventeen. Edward Greene Malbone's account book records painting portraits of both bride and groom in December 1804, for which Richard Sullivan paid $55 and $56, respectively. These were not Malbone's first portraits for the intermarried Russell and Sullivan families: the artist painted eight miniatures for them in 1796 and 1797, including four memorials of Sarah's father, Thomas Russell, and wedding portraits for the marriage of Sarah's half-sister Elizabeth to John Langdon Sullivan.

Painted at the height of Malbone’s artistic career, this portrait demonstrates his use of delicate lines and pale washes of color to reveal the luminosity of the ivory. Malbone's misty veils are especially appropriate for conveying the sitter's diaphanous dress and wispy hairstyle, fashionable at the turn of the century. He captured Sarah's sensuous beauty with a relaxed immediacy and a rare combination of technical virtuosity and self-effacing empathy with his sitter. The introspective mood and the slight melancholy of Sarah’s features showcase the poetic appeal of Malbone’s art.

Malbone’s premature death at age twenty-nine cut short the brilliant career of a painter considered to be America’s most accomplished miniaturist. Primarily self-taught, his talent, charm, and artistic skill contributed to his rapid success as an itinerant artist. In 1801 Malbone traveled to London, where he was influenced by the airy and elegant style of miniaturist Richard Cosway. Later that year he returned to Charleston, South Carolina, and began his most prolific period, traveling between Newport, Rhode Island, and Boston; Providence, Rhode Island; New York; Philadelphia; and Charleston. Malbone died of tuberculosis in May 1807.


Watercolor on ivory


3 3/8 × 2 11/16 in. (8.6 × 6.8 cm)

Credit Line

Lelia A. and John Hill Morgan, B.A. 1893, LL.B. 1896, M.A. (Hon.) 1929, Collection

Accession Number



19th century


Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of records is ongoing.



descended in the family to sitter's great granddaughter, Mrs. Charles Mills Cabot (Caroline Elizabeth Perkins), Boston, 1948; to Mrs. Cabot's daughter, Mrs. W. Ellery Sedgewick (Sarah Sullivan Cabot), June 1948; sold, via Charles D. Childs Gallery, Boston, to Mrs. John Hill Morgan, Farmington, Connecticut, July 13, 1948; to Yale University Art Gallery, July 1948

  • Robin Jaffee Frank and Katherine G. Eirk, "Miniatures under the Microscope," Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (1999): 65, fig. 3.

Object copyright
Additional information

Object/Work type

lockets, miniatures (paintings), portraits

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