Frances Anne Kemble as Beatrice

Thomas Sully

Frances Anne Kemble as Beatrice


Thomas Sully (1783-1872)




Oil on canvas


30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm.); framed: 37 3/4 x 32 5/8 x 3 7/8 in. (95.885 x 82.8675 x 9.8425 cm.)

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Bequest of Henry C. Carey (The Carey Collection)


Undeniably Sully's masterpiece, this portrait exemplifies the artist's technique at its best, from the creamy flesh tones to the spark of the subject's vivacious personality to the sketchy background that adds to the sense of freshness and immediacy. The work records the abiding friendship between the painter and Frances Anne (Fanny) Kemble, a British actress who debuted on the London stage as Juliet while a teenager. She first came to the United States on a two-year tour in 1832, where she was successfully courted by Pierce Butler, a Georgian planter. Both Kemble and Sully were members of extended theatrical families, which no doubt accounts for the great sympathy with which Sully depicted Fanny as various Shakespearean heroines (the Academy owns two other such portraits). When Sully journeyed to England in 1837-38 to try to paint Queen Victoria's portrait for a Philadelphia charitable organization, he took this painting along as advertisement of his skill. In fact, the painting's charm - as well as the young queen's fondness for Kemble - resulted in Sully finally obtaining a sitting with Victoria, who had been besieged by portrait requests since ascending to the throne. Sully remained friends with Kemble all his life, long after her 1849 divorce from Butler and return to the stage.