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Cyrus Griffin

Sully, Lawrence ||William and George Richardson
Place Made:
Richmond Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
watercolor –ivory –gold –glass –hair
HOA: 2 3/4″
WOA: 2 1/4″
Accession Number:
SITTER: Cyrus Griffin (1748-1810) was born in Richmond County, Virginia, in 1748. At eighteen he traveled to Scotland and enrolled at Edinburgh University. There he met and wed Lady Christiana Stewart (1749-1807), daughter of John Stewart, 6th Earl of Traquair. In 1771 he enrolled at the Middle Temple in London to continue his study of the law. He returned home and in 1776 was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. In 1778 he was elected to the Continental Congress and in 1788, under the Articles of Confederation, he was elected its last President before ratification of the Constitution. In 1789 Griffin was appointed to the United States District Court for Virginia by George Washington. The portrait miniature was painted during Griffin’s tenure on the bench, during which time he adjudicated important cases such as the United States v. Aaron Burr. Griffin died in 1810 and is buried in the Bruton Parish Cemetery, Williamsburg, Virginia.

ARTIST: This portrait miniature is a rare example of a signed miniature by Lawrence Sully (1769-1804), the elder brother of artist Thomas Sully (1783-1872). Lawrence Sully was born in Kilkenny, Ireland to actors Matthew and Sarah Chester Sully. The family moved to Horncastle, England, and then to America, where they briefly settled in Richmond, Virginia. On September 26, 1792, Sully first advertised as a “Miniature Painter (and Student of the Royal Academy, London).” The artist stated that his miniatures were “warranted never to fade.” Though his family would before move on to New York and Charleston, South Carolina. Lawrence chose to remain in Virginia, painting miniatures in Richmond, Norfolk, and Petersburg.

In 1793, Sully married Sarah Annis of Annapolis, Maryland. In 1801, Sully advertised a plan to open a drawing school in Richmond, but he may have moved to Norfolk before achieving this goal. Sully suffered from financial difficulties. Tradition says that he was killed in a fight with some sailors. After his death, his brother Thomas, whom Lawrence had taught and who would eventually surpass him in fame, married his widow Sarah.

CASEWORK: The portrait is set into a gold case. A plat of woven hair is visible through a small window in the back of the case. It is likely that the hairwork is also by Sully’s hand, as he advertised his ability to produce “fancy and hair devices executed in the neatest manner.” The case may be the work of gold and silversmiths William and George Richardson of Richmond. Sully is known to have sold his work through their Richmond, Virginia, shop.

DESCRIPTION: Watercolor on ivory miniature portrait of a man with white hair and blue eyes, signed and dated, “Sully/1799.” He wears a dark colored jacket and a white shirt beneath with a ruffled neck. The background is light blue at the top and fades to white. The ivory portrait is set inside an oval gold frame, the reverse with aperture containing a lock of brown hair. Having a single brass ring at the top, for hanging.

Descended to Griffin’s granddaughter Louisa Stewart (Mercer) Leyburn, and donated by Mrs. Leyburn to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1887; deaccessioned and offered to MESDA in 2012.

Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund