Sully Portrait of Randolph Returns to Richmond

Richmond – Wilton House Museum announces the recent acquisition of a portrait of Governor Peyton Randolph, a dashing and romantic painting by American artist Thomas Sully. After centuries of private ownership the painting now joins other Randolph family portraits on display in Wilton House Museum. “This acquisition,” enthuses Keith D. MacKay, Executive Director, “enhances our collection, advances our interpretive story, and connects the Randolph family and Wilton collection to one of the more dramatic moments in Virginia’s history,” the 1811 Richmond Theatre fire that claimed the lives of seventy two people.

Gov. Peyton Randolph

Peyton Randolph (1779-1828) is the son of Edmund Randolph and Elizabeth Nicholas.  Edmund had a distinguished career as George Washington’s aide-de-camp, the first United States Attorney General, and seventh Governor of Virginia.  Peyton had a respectable career in politics, but is best remembered for serving as Acting-Governor of Virginia following the death of Governor George William Smith in the Richmond Theatre fire on December 26, 1811.  As the senior member of the Council of State, Randolph acted as governor until January 3, 1812, when the House of Delegates was able to reconvene and elect a new governor.  Later, Randolph was an official reporter for the Virginia Reports, which was the official case reporter of the Virginia Supreme Court, until his death in 1828.

Moving from Richmond in 1806 Sully studied under portrait artist Gilbert Stuart before moving permanently to Philadelphia where he continued to paint masterful portraits and dramatic scenes from literature and history. “Thomas Sully is one of nineteenth-century America’s most important artists, whose career began in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Very few of his early works have survived today, which is why it is a red-letter day for Wilton to obtain a handsome portrait such as the portrayal of Mr. Randolph,” says Dr. William Keyse Rudolph, the Andrew W. Mellon Chief Curator and The Marie and Hugh Halff Curator of American Art at the San Antonio Museum of Art.  Dr. Rudolph is the curator of the first Sully retrospective exhibition in thirty years: Thomas Sully: Painted Performances.The artist, Thomas Sully (1783-1872), was an English-born, American painter born into a theater family.  Sully is best known for his portraits, especially those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette.  Sully’s portrait of Andrew Jackson is represented on the twenty dollar bill. At the turn of the 19th century, Sully joined his brother Lawrence Sully in Richmond and opened an artist studio where he painted portraits of prominent Virginians such as Peyton Randolph.  “Sully was only twenty-three when he painted Peyton Randolph in 1806,” explains MacKay, “he was still painting with an English-accent in these early works.”

Chairman of the Wilton House Museum Board, Brenda Parker, says “We are thrilled to welcome Peyton Randolph home to Wilton and to share this important example of Thomas Sully’s portraiture with our museum visitors.”  Wilton House Museum, Richmond’s only 18th century public plantation house, is the headquarters for The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  This circa 1753 Georgian estate was the home and centerpiece of tobacco plantation owner by the illustrious Randolph family.  In the 1930s, the Dames purchased the foreclosed house, had it dismantled, and moved to its present location in the west end of Richmond.  Today, Wilton offers an array of public programming, lectures, tours, and more.  This elegant addition to the museum collection can be seen on tours of the historic house.  For more information, visit Wilton online at or call (804)282-5936.

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