When Thomas Sully painted fifteen-year-old Eliza Ridgely in the spring of 1818, he was widely regarded as America's leading artist. Particularly noted for his graceful images of women, he was a natural choice to paint this Baltimore merchant's daughter.
In painting Eliza, Sully emphasized her privileged social status as well as her delicate, youthful charm. Her family affluence is indicated by her up-to-the-minute hair style and dress, inspired by contemporary European designs in the neo-Grecian manner. The satin of her Empire gown is carefully described through fluid brushwork and brilliant highlights. Eliza, as a young lady of cultural accomplishment, posed with her European pedal harp. She idly plucks the harp strings and gazes dreamily into space, as if musing on the lyrical chord she strikes. A fiery sunset heightens the romantic reverie.
Although she may very well have possessed luminous eyes, arched brows, and a porcelain complexion, Miss Ridgely's figure has been greatly idealized. Sully, for the sake of fashionable elegance, exaggerated her legs to half again as long as any conceivably normal proportion. Sully once wrote, "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."
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II, pages 151-159, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/American%20Paintings%20of%20the%20Nineteenth%20Century%20Part%20II.pdf
lower left on harp pedestal: TS (in monogram) 1818
The sitter's son, Charles Ridgely [1830-1872], Hampton, Towson, Maryland; his son, Captain John Ridgely [1851-1938], Hampton, Towson, Maryland; his son, John Ridgely, Jr. [1882-1959], Hampton, Towson, Maryland; purchased 1945 by NGA.
- Seventh Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1818, no. 112, as Full length Portrait of a Young Lady of Maryland.
- Loan Exhibition of Sully Portraits Owned in Maryland, The Maryland Institute and Municipal Art Society, Baltimore, 1921, no. 8, as Mrs. John Ridgely.
- Exhibition of Baltimore Owned Art Treasures, Baltimore Museum of Art, 1933, no. 42.
- Survey of American Painting, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1940, no. 110.
- 250 Years of Painting in Maryland, Baltimore Museum of Art, 1945, no. 89.
- The One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition of The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1955, no. 32, repro.
- American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720-1920, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1981-1982, no. 29, repro. (shown only in Los Angeles).
- Mr. Sully, Portrait Painter: The Works of Thomas Sully (1783-1872), National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1983, no. 28.
- Classical Taste in America, 1800-1840, Baltimore Museum of Art; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1993-1994, no. 216, repro. (cat. by Wendy A. Cooper).
- Thomas Sully: Painted Performance, Milwaukee Art Museum; San Antonio Museum of Art, 2013-2014, no. 13, repro., as Elizabeth Eichelberger Ridgely (Lady with a Harp).
- Hart 1909, no. 1408, 140.
- Biddle, Edward, and Mantle Fielding. The Life and Works of Thomas Sully (1783-1872). Philadelphia, 1921: no. 1474, 259.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 140, color repro.
- Bouton, Margaret. American Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959 (Booklet Number One in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 22, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 327, repro.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 112, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 243, repro.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 13, no. 8, color repro.
- Gerdts, William H. "Natural Aristocrats in a Democracy: 1810-1870." In American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720-1920. Exh. cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1981: 35, 128, color repro. 130.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: 87, repro. 88.
- Shipe, Bess Paterson. "Eliza Eichelberger Ridgely, 'The Lady with a Harp'." Maryland Historical Magazine 77, no. 3 (Fall 1982): 230-237.
- Fabian, Monroe H. Mr. Sully, Portrait Painter: The Works of Thomas Sully (1783-1872). Exh. cat. National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1983: 70, repro. 71.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 390, no. 557, color repro.
- Wilmerding 1988 am Masterpiece, 62, no. 8, color repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 361, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 224, repro.
- Cooper, Wendy A. A Classical Taste in America 1800-1840. Exh. cat. Baltimore Museum of Art, 1993: 266-268, color repro. 267.
- Cooper, Wendy A. Classical Taste in America. Exh. cat. The Baltimore Museum of Art; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 1993:266-268, repro.
- Craven, Wayne. American Art: History and Culture. New York, 1994: 144, color fig. 10.11.
- Miller, Beth L. "The Ridgelys of Hampton: New Perspectives on Musical Life in Early-Nineteenth-Century Baltimore." Journal of Musicological Research 14 (1994): 35-54, fig. 1.
- Torcia, Robert Wilson. "Eliza Ridgely and the Ideal of American Womanhood, 1787-1820." Maryland Historical Magazine 90, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 405-423, illus.
- Adler, Shane. “Whiteness." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:939.
- Torchia, Robert Wilson, with Deborah Chotner and Ellen G. Miles. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1998: 151-159, color repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 334, no. 268, color repro.