Portrait of Peyton Randolph (1778-1828)
Object ID: 2014.1.1-2
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 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.
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 court reporter of the Virginia Supreme Court, until his death in 1828.
Having studied the painting of miniatures in Charleston, South Carolina, Thomas Sully (1783 – 1871) joined his brother Lawrence in Richmond and opened an artist’s studio where from 1804 through 1806 he painted portraits of prominent Virginians such as Peyton Randolph. Moving from Richmond, Sully studied under portrait artist Gilbert Stuart before establishing his studio in Philadelphia where he continued to paint masterly 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, so it 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 Article Halff Curator of American Art at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Dr. Rudolph is the curator of the first United States Sully retrospective exhibition in thirty years: Thomas Sully: Painted Performances. 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.