The Wilton House in Richmond, VA: a historic residence of the Randolph family and a Colonial treasure in the West End! On February 6, 2015 it hosted the Thomas Sully and Early Republic Richmond Symposium, which I will allow them to introduce: “One of America’s greatest portrait painters, Thomas Sully (1783 – 1871) spent formative years painting in Richmond receiving commissions from some of the Old Dominion’s most prominent citizens such as Governor Peyton Randolph (1779 – 1828) until a romance with his sister-in-law forced the artist to leave the state. Noted speakers from across the country will present a cross-disciplinary exploration of the nineteenth-century artist and his times, a twentieth-century collector, and twenty-first century conservation challenges.”
I had the good fortune to be one of the speakers and gave a talk on early 19th century Richmond and the Theater fire. This fantastic artist, Thomas Sully, came to America with his parents, who were gifted actors, in the late 1700s. The Sullys immigrated to be part of a troupe based in Richmond (and their many children performed too). Later, Thomas Sully, child of the stage, would paint Peyton Randolph’s portrait. Randolph was the Governor of Virginia for about 9 days after the Richmond Theater fire killed Gov. George Smith on Dec. 26th, 1811. Certainly an interesting connection: the Richmond stage brought Sully to American shores and also propelled one of his portrait subjects into the Governor’s seat.
The other presenters were Craig Reynolds (architectural history), Scott Nolley (restoration), William Rudolph (Chief Curator, San Antonio Museum of Art), and Mary Levkoff (Hearst Castle Museum Director). If you have a chance to hear any of them give a talk, you should. The food was plentiful, the participants had great questions, and Wilton House staff & supporters proved gracious hosts. Looking forward to their next symposium (and their forthcoming exhibit of St. Memin portraits)!