November 17, 2020 Early Arms & Militaria: Age of Exploration, Empire & Revolution
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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 11/17/2020
Thomas Sully (American, 1783-1872). “Portrait of Lieutenant James Gibbon, United States Navy, c. 1806." Oil on canvas, 24 7/8 x 20 5/8 inches, within carved 19th century frame. Namesake and eldest son of Major James Gibbon, an officer of the Virginia Continental Line, the younger James was born on 24 January 1783. He was appointed a midshipman in the U.S. Navy on 20 June 1799, serving in the Quasi-War and the Barbary Wars. During the latter, he was one of the senior midshipmen aboard the frigate Philadelphia under Captain William Bainbridge when she ran aground in the harbor of Tripoli and was captured with all crew on 31 October 1803, spending nearly 1 ½ years in captivity. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1806 and in 1809, served as a special courier for important diplomatic dispatches sent to the governments of France and Great Britain. On 26 December 1811, the promising young officer perished in the Richmond Theater fire while attempting to rescue Miss Sarah Conyers (a young lady with whom he was said to have been romantically involved). According to one account, Gibbon had “borne her partly down the staircase, when the steps gave way, and a body of flame swept them to eternity.” Previously attributed at various times to Thomas Sully, Cephas Thompson and Remdrandt Peale, it can now be firmly established that this portrait is a work by Sully, who would become one of the leading painters of the early Republic. Born in England in 1783, the future artist immigrated with his family to Richmond, Virginia in 1792. In 1795 while apprenticed to an insurance broker in Charleston, South Carolina, the adolescent Sully studied drawing and painting under his brother-in-law, French émigré miniaturist Jean Belzons until 1799 (when he fled that city after knocking down Belzons during a dispute). Returning to Richmond to pursue "miniature and device painting" under instruction from elder brother Lawrence Sully, Thomas set out on his own career as an portrait painter and miniaturist in 1804. While seeking commissions elsewhere in the Tidewater, he learned of Lawrence’s death in September of that year. Returning to Richmond to help his late brother’s widow, Sarah Annis Sully, with her young family, Sully worked out of a studio in that city until summer 1806, when he married his former sister-in-law and departed for New England and future study under Gilbert Stuart. It was during this Richmond period that newly-promoted Lieutenant James Gibbon sat for Sully, who painted both this oil and a miniature version on ivory, for which he was paid $20 in 1806. The handsome young officer is shown resplendent in his new, gold-laced uniform with epaulet on left shoulder, denoting his new rank. A rare surviving example from his Virginia period, this painting descended in the Gibbon family to Lillian Carter, in whose possession it was when recorded and photographed by Frick Art Reference Library in 1941; acquired by consignor at a local auction in Norfolk, Virginia, January 2019. CONDITION: the painting is unlined, but there are two patches of canvas on reverse and examination under UV (as well as comparison against the Frick photograph) confirms that there has been some inpainting, principally a 1-inch perforation in the sitter’s right ear lobe and a similar-sized one located at center front breast, just below the junction of the coat’s laced lapels. JLK

Item Dimensions: Frame: 31 - 1/4" x 27 - 1/2".
Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $5,000.00
Final prices include buyers premium: $18,750.00
Estimate: $10,000 - $20,000
Number Bids: 17
Auction closed on Tuesday, November 17, 2020.
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