American Paintings and Sculpture
Artist: Thomas Sully, American, born England, 1783–1872

Self-Portrait of the Artist Painting His Wife (Sarah Annis Sully)

ca. 1810

Oil on canvas

26 3/4 × 21 7/8 in. (67.9 × 55.6 cm)
Mabel Brady Garvan Collection

Great sadness haunts this striking double portrait. Here, Thomas Sully is at once painter, husband, and grieving father. In 1810 Sully’s infant son died in Philadelphia while the artist was in London alone studying with the esteemed American expatriate painter Benjamin West. Sully immediately returned home. The artist invokes the power of art to bring the grieving Sarah magically back from the depths of her sorrow, creating her image on canvas. But that image seems on the verge of evaporating, as if it too cannot sustain the terrible blow that has befallen the young couple.

Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Not on view
19th century

Helen A. Cooper et al., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2008), 220–21, no. 120, ill.

Lance Mayer and Gay Myers, American Painters on Technique: The Colonial Period to 1860 (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011), 98, fig. 12.

Whitney N. Morgan, “Recently Acquired,” Parnassus Vol. 9 (1937): 35, no. 9.

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 such records is ongoing.