Question of the Week
What well known Philadelphia artist painted an image of Washington crossing the Delaware River?
Answer: Thomas Sully
Thomas Sully was a Philadelphia artist, best known for his portrait paintings. Previous to his life in Philadelphia, Sully studied in Massachusetts and Virginia. He was born in England in 1783 and lived for a time in Virginia, South Carolina and various parts of New England. He began painting at a young age and turned professional in 1801 at the age of 18. He studied under the likes of Gilbert Stuart and Benjamin West, serviced protégés such as John Neagle, and became most known for his portraits. Sully lived and worked in Philadelphia for almost 70 years until his death in 1872.
In 1816, the General Assembly of North Carolina approached Sully (and other artists) to paint two portraits of George Washington. Sully's rates won out over Rembrandt Peale and he offered the Assembly two choices: two copies of Gilbert Stuart's original portrait of George Washington or one copy of Stuart's work and one original work featuring Washington by Sully. The Assembly chose the latter and picked Washington's December passage of the Delaware River as the theme for Sully's own painting. Sully's original painting, The Passage of the Delaware, is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Image: Washington Passing the Delaware, Evening previous to the Battle of Trenton. December 25, 1776, print after engraving by G. S. Lang after painting by Thomas Sully (circa 1825)
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.