LUKE SULLIVAN (1705-1771), Portrait Miniature of a Gentleman

circa 1750s
IRISH SCHOOL

Medium: watercolour on ivory

H 6.3 cm

POA

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This portrait of a gentleman by Luke Sullivan (1705-1771) was painted in the 1750s, at the heart of London’s artistic life and at the height of his career. The identity of the sitter is currently unknown, he wears a vermillion coat edged with white lace, a dark blue waistcoat embellish, white lace cravat, his hair worn en queue and tied back. The miniature is signed on the observe with a monogram L.S., and set within a gold bracelet gold class mount.

Luke Sullivan was an Irish artist who was born in County Louth. He came from humble beginnings and went on to move to London with his father, who became the groom to the Duke of Beaufort. It was thought to have been the Duke who encouraged Sullivan’s practice in the art of engraving. As it is believed that he employed an engraver called Le Bas to teach him the skill. Sullivan was closely associated with notable members of society and he later became the groom to the Earl of Badminton.

Sullivan was known for having a colourful career as an artist. He acquired not just the skill of a successful engraver but became known for his paintings of watercolours, landscapes, architectural views and most of all for his portrait miniatures. William Hogarth FRSA (1697-1764) employed Sullivan as his assistant engraver and the pair would go on to produce many works together, including The March to Finchley, 1750-61, (fig.2) which was Hogarth’s painting and then later engraved by Sullivan. This was a powerful piece to capture a significant moment in history. The scene is held at Tottenham Court, where soldiers are shown preparing to fight the Jacobite rebels in the north, which can be seen on the Hampstead hill in the background. Hogarth presents social, political and economic display, along with a satirical undertone that critiques the social dismay of eighteenth-century Britain.

Sullivan is largely known for his assistance to Hogarth, though his work as a miniaturist was well established and recognised for his individualised style. Sullivan exhibited with the Society of Artists from 1764-70, where it was said by Horace Walpole (1717-1797) in Graves’ Dictionary of Artists that his work was exceedingly fine, and J. T. Smith states that in his “humble opinion” Luke Sullivan was “the most extraordinary of all miniature painters”.

Towards the end of the century, Sullivan was an established artist who was known to have acquired a fashionable clientele. He was associated with a club for artists and well-known amateurs who would meet at Leicester Square in the back parlour of the public house of ‘Feathers’, neighbouring the royal Frederick, Prince of Wales. Whilst amidst his frivolous and social lifestyle, Sullivan became a director of the Society of Artists and when exhibiting with them, it was during this time that Sir Joshua Reynolds became the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1769. It is thought that they were associates as both would have met frequently at the society. 

Works by Luke Sullivan feature in the collections of The Royal Academy of Arts, Tate Britain, The British Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The National Galleries of Scotland, and many more. 

 
Provenance: Private Collection in South Kensington, London.
 
Literature:
Einberg, E., Egerton, J., The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709 (Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988).
Foskett, D., MacLehose, R. & Co., Ltd, British Portrait Miniatures (University Press, Glasgow, 1963).
Graves, A., A Dictionary of Artists Who have Exhibited Works in the Principle London Exhibitions of oil paintings from 1760-1880 (George Bell & Sons, London, 1884).
Hargraves, M., Candidates for fame: the Society of Artists of Great Britain, 1760-1791 (Yale University Press, 2006).
Smith, J. T., Book for a Rainy Day or Recollections of the Events of the Years 1766-1833 (Methuen & Co., London, 1905).
Symes, M., The landscape park engravings of LS (Journal of Garden History, IX 1984).
Thornbury, W., Leicester SquareOld and New London: Vol. 3 (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London 1878).

ONE OF "THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY OF ALL MINIATURE PAINTERS" - J. T. Smith, Book for a Rainy Day, 1905.