THOMAS SULLY (1783–1872)
Portrait of Henry McIlvaine (1805–1851), 1836
Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in.
Monogrammed and dated (at lower left): TS 1836
RECORDED: Charles Henry Hart, ed., A Register of Portraits Painted by Thomas Sully, 1801–1871 (1919), p. 1123 no. 1114 // Edward Biddle and Mantle Fielding, The Life and Works of Thomas Sully (1921), p. 220 no. 1154
EX COLL.: Henry McIlvaine, 1836–51, and by descent in the family to Mary McIlvaine Parsons (Mrs. John E. Parsons); to her daughter, Constance Parsons Hare (Mrs. J. Montgomery Hare, Jr.) (d. after 1953), New York; private collection, suburban Boston, until 2007
This portrait of Henry McIlvaine displays all the vibrancy and dashing virtuosity of Sully’s mature style and the seemingly natural ability with which he was able to bring life to his subjects. Henry McIlvaine (1805–1851) was the fifth of ten children born to Joseph McIlvaine, Jr. (1769–1826) and Maria Reed (b. 1775) of Burlington, New Jersey. Joseph McIlvaine, Jr., a prominent lawyer, was both a United States Attorney for the district of New Jersey (1801–1820) and was elected to the United States Senate in 1823. Henry followed in his father’s footsteps, receiving his law degree from Princeton in 1823 and being admitted to the bar in Philadelphia in 1826. Though he died fairly young, McIlvaine evidently achieved some prominence as an advocate. He married three times: first to Frances Watson (d. 1834), then to Matilda Nesbit, and finally to her sister, Louisa Nesbit (b. 1810). McIlvaine died without ever having children.
Sully painted several portraits of the McIlvaines, including ones of Henry’s father, Joseph McIlvaine, Jr.; his first wife, Frances Watson McIlvaine (a portrait started by Henry Inman and finished by Sully that is now at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia); and two of Henry’s younger sisters, Ellen and Mary.