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 George Washington Sully  (1816 - 1890)

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About: George Washington Sully


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Lived/Active: Florida/Louisiana      Known for: naive landscape, trompe still life

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
"Rack Picture, with Letter, Almanac, and Business Card"
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
Sully was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in October, 1816. He was the fifth child and third son of Ann Hendree Sully and Chester Sully, a cotton merchant who was the brother of the noted portraitist Thomas Sully. In the 1820s Sully and his family moved to Florida, which had just been acquired by the United States from Spain.

Sully's first known watercolors -- views of Bermuda and other islands -- were possibly done as the family moved from Virginia to Florida in 1829. From 1829 to 1833 the Sully family lived in the Florida panhandle, probably at Magnolia, a village on the St. Mark's River just south of Tallahassee, which was permanently abandoned during the Seminole War. Sully may have served in that war in 1833.

Sully painted scenes of Magnolia, Tallahassee (1832), Aspalaga (1833), Appalachicola (1833) and St. Mark's (1830). In 1834 he painted in Pensacola, producing pictures of Indians, houses, and a number of views, including one of Foster's Island, where he was employed briefly by one William H. Chase.

After the death of his father in Columbus, Georgia, in 1834 or 1835, the Sully family moved to New Orleans, arriving in 1835. His mother died there in 1836. In that year Sully did a waterfront city view sketch. In New Orleans Sully also produced trompe l'oeil rack pictures, cartoons, caricatures and birds, including copies of Audubon.

In 1838 Sully met Julia Meigs Austin, daughter of Charles Austin, the territorial treasurer of Florida from 1833 to 1836. They married on May 15, 1839, at her home in Tallahassee. Sully kept a scrapbook, dedicated to his wife, containing sketches, silhouettes, autographs and poetry. She died in 1841, age 22, shortly after giving birth to a daughter, Julia.

In 1845 Sully married Harriett Jane Green. She was sick for most of the first decade of their marriage, but gave birth to two sons. One died in New Orleans as an infant. The second, Thomas (1855-1939), became a prominent New Orleans architect and designed its first skyscraper. He was born in Mississippi City, Mississippi, to which the Sullys had moved for Mrs. Sully's health.

Like his father, Sully worked as a cotton broker. Painting was an avocation. He never received artistic training from his famous uncle or anyone else. His painstakingly linear architectural drawings, while undeniably charming and of documentary interest, are labored and show his limitations as an artist. Of course, most of his surviving work dates from his youth. According to family members, he painted, sketched and carved in wood throughout his life, but nothing by him is known after 1849. His Virginia views, Near Richmond and New Callagham on the Road to White Sulphur (Springs) probably were done in the late 1830s or early 1840s. They may have been done on a visit to his family in Norfolk, or to his first wife's family in Fredericksburg.

By 1862 the Sullys had returned to Louisiana from Mississippi. They lived in quiet retirement in Covington, near Lake Ponchartrain, and both died there in 1890.

THE SOUTH ON PAPER: LINE, COLOR AND LIGHT, Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc., Spartanburg, South Carolina, 1985, p. 60.

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