Mother and Son

Artist: Thomas Sully (American, Horncastle, Lincolnshire 1783–1872 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Date: 1840

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 57 x 45 3/8 in. (144.8 x 115.3 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Bequest of Francis T. Sully Darley, 1914

Accession Number: 14.126.5


The sitters are the artist's daughter Jane Sully Darley (1807–1877) and her son Francis Thomas Sully Darley (died 1914). Jane Sully married William Henry W. Darley, a prominent music teacher in Philadelphia and older brother of the illustrator F. O. C. Darley. She became active as a portrait painter and exhibited pictures in Philadelphia and other art societies between 1825 and 1869. Her son became a well-known organist in Philadelphia. Although this portrait is dated "1840. Jan.," according to a register kept by Sully it was begun on April 13, 1839, and finished on December 31. The register also records the painting of a smaller replica in 1866. The composition may be linked to Sir Thomas Lawrence's Countess Grey and Her Daughters (private collection). It makes use of a full range of iconographic elements, such as the rendition of the Salpion Krater. As used here, its scene of Dionysos brought by Hermes to be nurtured by the nymphs serves to emphasize the tender closeness of mother and son. Similarly, the dog and clinging ivy are traditional symbols of loyalty. A watercolor drawing for this painting is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.