Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Sully to Thomas Jefferson, 22 December 1811

From Thomas Sully

Philadelphia Decr 22nd 1811

sir

An association has lately been formed in this City consisting of Artists, & Amateurs, residing in different parts of the Union; Under the Title of Society of Artists of U.S.

I am requested to communicate to you in the name of the Society. That you were unanimously elected an Honorary member at a special meeting held on the 15th inst:

Your love for the Arts & Sciences, and your long & unremitted exertions to promote the Independence & prosperity of our Country are known to all the World—A Society having for its object the cultivation of the fine Arts throughout this extensive, & flourishing Republic, cannot fail to meet your approbation, and receive your cordial cooperation.

The establishment of Schools in the various branches of the Arts on liberal principles, and periodical Exhibitions of the Works of American Artists, will, it is believed have a tendency to form a correct taste in this Country.—By calling into Action Native genius, many prejudices will be removed with respect to foreign productions: And the application of the fine Arts to useful purposes, is acknowledged by all who are acquainted with the principles, & progress of Civilization, to be of great importance.

The members of this infant Institution are convinced that their success depends much upon their own exertions; at the same time they are aware that the countena[nce] and support of the most distingushed patriotic characters in the Country: will not only powerfully aid them in the Arduo[us] pursuits in which they are engaged but will also have a tend[ency] to unite & give confidence to all who are immediatly interested in the prosperity of the Institution.

I herewith transmit a Copy of the Constitution of the Society.

By order of the Committee of Corresponde[nce]

ThosSully. Secy

——Committee of Correspondence——

Rembt Peale
Geoge Murray
Benjn Trott.
Robt Mills
Gideon Fairman
Wm Rush
Thos Sully.

RC (MHi); edge trimmed; in an unidentified hand, with signature and committee membership list in Sully’s hand; between dateline and salutation: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as a letter from Sully received 1 Jan. 1812 and so recorded in SJL. Printed in Richmond Enquirer, 25 Feb. 1812. Enclosure: The Constitution of the Society of Artists of the United States, Established at Philadelphia, May, 1810 (Philadelphia, 1810).

Thomas Sully (1783–1872), painter, was a native of Horncastle, England, who immigrated to America with his parents in 1792. Building on initial training by his friend Charles Fraser, his brother-in-law Jean Belzons, and his brother Lawrence Sully, he took up art as his profession in 1801. A visit to Gilbert Stuart in 1807 and a trip to England, 1809–10, contributed to his further artistic development. After setting up studios in Richmond and New York, late in 1807 Sully relocated permanently to Philadelphia. He became a United States citizen in 1809. Sully gave art lessons, operated a picture gallery, and produced more than twenty-six hundred works during his lengthy career. Among the most famous are a painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware and portraits of TJ (1821), Andrew Jackson, Lafayette, James Monroe, and Queen Victoria (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Edward Biddle and Mantle Fielding, The Life and Works of Thomas Sully (1783–1872) [1921]; Bush, Life Portraits description begins Alfred L. Bush, The Life Portraits of Thomas Jefferson, rev. ed., 1987 description ends , 76–9; Sully to TJ, 6 Apr. 1821; TJ to Sully, 17 Apr. 1821; Philadelphia Inquirer, 6 Nov. 1872).

Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860), painter, was the third son of Charles Willson Peale. Like his father, he became a well-known and highly regarded portraitist. Peale executed numerous likenesses in Baltimore, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia before traveling in 1802 to England, where he studied at the Royal Academy and under Benjamin West. He produced many portraits of George Washington, starting with one taken from life in 1795, and his two life portraits of TJ, painted in 1800 and 1805, are among the third president’s most recognizable images. Peale was a founder of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1805. During two trips to France between 1808 and 1810, he painted many French notables, including Napoleon and Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours. In 1814 Peale moved to Baltimore and there opened a museum and art gallery. Eight years later financial difficulties forced him to sell the museum to his brother Rubens and relocate to New York City, where in 1826 he helped found the National Academy of Design. Peale also exhibited history paintings, served as president of the American Academy of the Fine Arts, 1836–38, and published drawing manuals, travel accounts, and memoirs. He died in Philadelphia (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Peale, Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller and others, eds., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, New Haven, 1983–2000, 5 vols. in 6 description ends ; Bush, Life Portraits description begins Alfred L. Bush, The Life Portraits of Thomas Jefferson, rev. ed., 1987 description ends , 37–41, 54–6; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 31 vols. description ends , 33:114, 433–4; Peale to TJ, 13 July 1813, 8 Jan. 1824, 7 Dec. 1825; TJ to Peale, 29 Nov., 16 Dec. 1825; Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin, 4 Oct. 1860).

George Murray (d. 1822) and Gideon Fairman (1774–1827), were both engravers and inventors. They helped found the banknote engraving firm of Murray, Draper, Fairman & Company in Philadelphia about 1810. Murray was a native of Scotland who moved to Philadelphia about 1800. Fairman was born in Connecticut and moved to Philadelphia from Albany in 1810. He also painted portraits (George C. Groce and David H. Wallace, The New-York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America 1564–1860 [1957], 219, 462; William Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States [1834; repr. 1969], 2:48–9, 143–4; List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 26, 79, 237; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 9 July 1822; Philadelphia United States Gazette, 20 Mar. 1827).

Benjamin Trott (ca. 1770–1843), artist, specialized in miniature portraits. A native of Boston, he was a friend of both Sully and Gilbert Stuart and worked in Philadelphia for extended periods, including 1806–19 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Dunlap, Arts of Design, 1:414–7; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 29 Nov. 1843).

William Rush (1756–1833), sculptor, was a lifelong resident of Philadelphia who made his reputation carving figureheads and ornaments for merchant vessels and United States Navy frigates. With the passage of the Embargo Act in 1807, he began creating architectural statues and busts of notables such as his cousin Benjamin Rush, TJ, Lafayette, James Madison, and George Washington. TJ received a plaster cast of Rush’s bust of Andrew Jackson as a gift in 1820. In 1794 Rush helped to organize the Columbianum, a short-lived art academy. He carved replicas of mastodon bones to complete skeletons for Charles Willson Peale’s museum in 1801, sat on Philadelphia’s city council, 1801–26, and was a founder of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1805 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, William Rush, American Sculptor [1982], esp. 128–9, 152–3, 170–1, 176; James Ronaldson to TJ, 1 Feb. 1820; Philadelphia United States Gazette, 19 Jan. 1833).

The Society of Artists of the United States, which was founded in Philadelphia in May 1810, conducted classes and held several annual exhibitions. It was incorporated as the Columbian Society of Artists on 16 Feb. 1813, with TJ’s name first on a long list of incorporators (act of incorporation in Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [Philadelphia, 1813], 73–6; Tr in Minute Book of Society of Artists of the United States [MS in PPAFA]). The society was essentially moribund by 1815, and finally dissolved five years later (Edward J. Nygren, “The First Art Schools at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography,1877– description ends 95 [1971]: 225–36; Latrobe, Papers description begins John C. Van Horne and others, eds., The Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 1984–88, 3 vols. description ends , 3:65).

According to the Society’s minutes, TJ was unanimously elected an honorary member on 11 Dec. 1811 (not the 15th inst), George murray having nominated him. On 5 Feb. 1812 Murray successfully moved that the above letter, a second Sully letter of 6 Jan. 1812, and TJ’s 8 and 25 Jan. 1812 replies be “recorded in the Books of the Society, and that they also be published in the Newspapers” (Minute Book of Society of Artists of the United States, MS in PPAFA, pp. 46, 52).

Index Entries

  • Fairman, Gideon; and Society of Artists of the United States search
  • Fairman, Gideon; identified search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Mills, Robert; and Society of Artists of the United States search
  • Murray, George; and Society of Artists of the United States search
  • Murray, George; identified search
  • Peale, Rembrandt; and Society of Artists of the United States search
  • Peale, Rembrandt; identified search
  • Philadelphia; and Society of Artists of the United States search
  • Rush, William; and Society of Artists of the United States search
  • Rush, William; identified search
  • Society of Artists of the United States; and TJ search
  • Society of Artists of the United States; constitution of search
  • Society of Artists of the United States; identified search
  • Sully, Thomas; and Society of Artists of the United States search
  • Sully, Thomas; identified search
  • Sully, Thomas; letters from search
  • The Constitution of the Society of Artists of the United States, Established at Philadelphia, May, 1810 search
  • Trott, Benjamin; and Society of Artists of the United States search
  • Trott, Benjamin; identified search