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The son of actors Matthew Sully and Sarah Chester, Thomas Sully was born at Horncastle, England, in 1783. The family emigrated to Richmond, Virginia, in 1792 and 2 years later settled in Charleston, South Carolina. Sully returned to his native England for study in 1809-10 and in that year his level of painterly accomplishment grew tenfold. Back home he was lauded as the “American Lawrence,” the finest portraitist in Philadelphia and one of the best in the country.
Sully’s daybook overflowed with commissions from the elite of Pennsylvania and Maryland society, and the affable and levelheaded artist managed his affairs in a manner worthy of a successful portraitist. He almost single-handedly created the vogue for full-length portraiture in Philadelphia, and his career soared on a trajectory that had him painting celebrated public figures as well as the most eminent and fashionable private citizens in the vicinity. He was especially well known for his highly engaging and flattering portraits of women.
Sully had always planned a return trip to London and it was the financial panic of 1837 that set him on his way that fall. His friend, the publisher Edward Carey, offered the artist an advance on commissions for copies of narrative pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and a number of other Philadelphia gentlemen placed similar orders. On October 9, 1837, the day before his decided date of departure from Philadelphia to London, Thomas Sully received a missive from the local chapter of the Society of the Sons of Saint George, a benevolent association devoted to supporting indigent English emigrants and their families. The gentlemen prevailed upon the artist to paint for their meeting room a full-length portrait of Queen Victoria, who had ascended to the throne just months before. Sully had by that time packed for a three-month study trip, intended as a refresher course in British painting; for his 23-year-old daughter... (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tsly/hd_tsly.htm)