The Fancy or Subject Portraits Thomas Sully kept meticulously detailed records that provide an in-depth understanding of the life of a working artist in nineteenth-century America. Rather than representing sitters in contemporary dress, these portraits present their subjects in imaginative costumes that evoke character types or specific characters from literature or the stage. Although nearly 90 percent of Sully’s documented works are portraits, Sully also created large- and small-scale paintings drawn from dramatic and literary sources—or invented entirely from his imagination (or “fancy”). Fancy or subject pictures served multiple purposes for the artist. They allowed him to experiment with different subjects, materials, and technical processes.
Ask students to describe the details the artist used that are most helpful in getting to know the girl in Sarah Esther Hindman as Little Red Riding Hood (1833). Invite students to write a letter to Sarah Esther Hindman. Or discuss what she might carry in her basket.