Thomas Sully: Plot It

Theatrical Portraits The majority of Sully’s portrait clients were merchants, ministers, bankers, doctors, military figures, and naturally, socialites—with a few notable exceptions, such as presidents and royalty.

Theatricality implies drama, performance, and a heightened sense of activity. In some of Sully’s grandest full-length portraits, his figures are composed as if they were onstage, playing to the galleries, while the backgrounds swirl with activity. Regardless of who is featured, Sully’s subjects are never static.


As a group, discuss how both artists and authors communicate plot in a work of art or literature. Consider the story told in the painting George Frederick Cooke in the Role of Richard III (1811-1812). Ask students to identify three significant events to add to a plot map. Don’t forget to reference information in the painting! Have students discuss their answers.