National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Captain Charles Stewart Thomas Sully (artist)
American, 1783 - 1872
Captain Charles Stewart, 1811-1812
oil on canvas
overall: 237 x 149.2 cm (93 5/16 x 58 3/4 in.) framed: 266.4 x 178.4 x 11.4 cm (104 7/8 x 70 1/4 x 4 1/2 in.)
Gift of Maude Monell Vetlesen
1947.4.1
On View
From the Tour: American Portraits of the Late 1700s and Early 1800s
Object 5 of 8

During the half-century from the War of 1812 to the Civil War, American connoisseurs judged portraits by the romantic, even theatrical, standards set by Thomas Sully. Gifted with the ability to make the difficult look easy, Sully dashed off both flattering likenesses and scenes from history with equal facility. During his eighty-nine-year life, he documented his incredible productivity in an account book that lists 2,631 paintings, of which 2,017 were portraits.

According to Sully's Register, the artist's second full-length, life-size portrait was Captain Charles Stewart, begun on 10 June 1811. Having recently won victories over French privateers, the handsome naval officer commissioned the work as a gift for his mother. The canvas was finished on 13 April 1812. A few months later, Stewart took command of the Constitution, which already had acquired the nickname "Old Ironsides" after a British cannonball bounced off its oak hull. Neither ship nor commander, who eventually was promoted to rear admiral, ever lost a battle. Therefore, "Old Ironsides" came to identify them both.

Sully lit the thirty-three-year-old captain with a fiery orange glow and depicted his feet braced apart as though planted on a rolling deck. Stewart's thumb aggressively presses down on a nautical chart, while a world globe, underneath the tablecloth, alludes to navigation.

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