National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely Thomas Sully (artist)
American, 1783 - 1872
Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely, 1818
oil on canvas
overall: 214.5 x 142.5 cm (84 7/16 x 56 1/8 in.) framed: 242.6 x 172.1 x 9.8 cm (95 1/2 x 67 3/4 x 3 7/8 in.)
Gift of Maude Monell Vetlesen
1945.9.1
Not on View
From the Tour: American Portraits of the Late 1700s and Early 1800s
Object 6 of 8

Born to an English family of actors, Sully was nine years old when his parents brought their theatrical company to the United States. Trained by minor American painters, he studied in London briefly during 1809-1810. Sully's paintings reveal his upbringing in the dramatic arts. Here, he transformed the daughter of a Baltimore merchant into a personification of gentility, posed before a breathtaking sunset.

Fifteen-year-old Eliza Ridgely dreamily plucks the strings of an imported pedal harp. Her empire satin gown is accented by a regally draped shawl. In reality, however, it is doubtful whether Eliza actually had fingers so slender, arms so lengthy, or torso and thighs so svelte. Sully later admitted, "From long experience I know that resemblance in a portrait is essential; but no fault will be found with the artist, (at least by the sitter) if he improve the appearance."

In 1828, ten years after posing for Sully, Eliza married John Ridgely, a cousin who was the son of a Maryland governor. Other portraits in the National Gallery collection depict members of her family. Distant relatives posed in 1788 for Benjamin and Eleanor Ridgely Laming by Peale. Sully's Governor Charles Ridgely of Maryland, dated 1820, depicts her father-in-law at age sixty.

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