Portraits by Thomas Sully

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on December 5, 2009, 7:30 PM

I was browsing through an online art gallery, and found several portraits by the same artist that reminded me of the characters in Mansfield Park.

Sir Thomas Bertram was a man with “grave looks” and “a most untoward gravity of deportment”, but he is still “a fine-looking man, with most gentlemanlike, dignified, consistent manners” — “just what the head of such a family [as his] should be”.

Lady Bertram “was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa”. As a young woman she was “handsome” and “had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park”. This portrait actually reminds me of both Lady Bertram and Mrs. Price:

“The [Price] family were now seen to advantage. Nature had given them no inconsiderable share of beauty, and every Sunday dressed them in their cleanest skins and best attire. Sunday always brought this comfort to Fanny, and on this Sunday she felt it more than ever. Her poor mother now did not look so very unworthy of being Lady Bertram’s sister as she was but too apt to look. It often grieved her to the heart to think of the contrast between them; to think that where nature had made so little difference, circumstances should have made so much, and that her mother, as handsome as Lady Bertram, and some years her junior, should have an appearance so much more worn and faded, so comfortless, so slatternly, so shabby. But Sunday made her a very creditable and tolerably cheerful-looking Mrs. Price, coming abroad with a fine family of children, feeling a little respite of her weekly cares, and only discomposed if she saw her boys run into danger, or Rebecca pass by with a flower in her hat.” (Mansfield ParkChapter XLII)

Tom Bertram was “very well-looking” — “objection could no more be made to his person than to his situation in life”. Indeed, both “the Mr. Bertrams were very fine young men, … two such young men were not often seen together even in London”.

Julia Bertram was “a nice, handsome, good-humoured, accomplished girl”, “tall, full formed, and fair”, one of “the finest young women in the country”, though her “beauty and acquirements … held but a second place” to those of her sister, Maria Bertram.

Henry Crawford “though not handsome, had air and countenance”. When the Miss Bertrams first saw him “he was absolutely plain, black and plain; but still he was the gentleman, with a pleasing address. The second meeting proved him not so very plain: he was plain, to be sure, but then he had so much countenance, and his teeth were so good, and he was so well made, that one soon forgot he was plain; and after a third interview, after dining in company with him at the Parsonage, he was no longer allowed to be called so by anybody.” Mr. Rushworth considers him “an undersized, little, mean-looking man”, and Fanny Price does not “think him at all handsome.”

Mary Crawford “was remarkably pretty”. The Bertrams are charmed by her “lively dark eye, clear brown complexion, and general prettiness.” Edmund Bertram considers that it “is her countenance that is so attractive. She has a wonderful play of feature!” In addition to her other charms, she plays the harp “with superior tone and expression”:

“A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man’s heart. The season, the scene, the air, were all favourable to tenderness and sentiment. Mrs. Grant and her tambour frame were not without their use: it was all in harmony; and as everything will turn to account when love is once set going, even the sandwich tray, and Dr. Grant doing the honours of it, were worth looking at. Without studying the business, however, or knowing what he was about, Edmund was beginning, at the end of a week of such intercourse, to be a good deal in love”. (Mansfield ParkChapter VII)

Fanny Price has a “general elegance of … appearance”. She is “absolutely pretty. … in that soft skin of hers, so frequently tinged with a blush … there is decided beauty”. Mary Crawford “always thought her pretty—not strikingly pretty—but ‘pretty enough,’ as people say; a sort of beauty that grows on one. Her eyes should be darker, but she has a sweet smile”. Henry Crawford, however, finds an “exhaustless theme” in “Fanny’s beauty of face and figure, Fanny’s graces of manner and goodness of heart”.

The Artist

Thomas Sully lived from 1783 to 1872. In 1792, his family immigrated from England to Virginia. He became a professional painter in 1801. Several famous people were painted by him, including John Quincy Adams, Queen Victoria, and Thomas Jefferson. He is best known for his portrait painting, but he also painted landscapes and historical pieces. In 1806, he moved to Philadelphia were he lived the remainder of his life.

Many of his paintings can be viewed online. The paintings above, I found on Wikimedia Commons.

The actual subjects of the portraits:

Sir Thomas – Caleb P. Bennett of Delaware

Lady Bertram – Mrs. Katharine Matthews

Tom Bertram – Daniel la Motte of Baltimore, MD

Julia Bertram – Margaret Siddons Kintzing

Henry Crawford – U.S. Senator John Norvell of Michigan

Mary Crawford – “Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely”

Fanny Price – Elizabeth Blair Lee


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