Since the early nineteenth century, Byron, the man and his image, have captured the hearts and minds of untold legions of people of all political and social stripes in Britain, Europe, America, and around the world. This book focuses on the history and cultural significance for Federal America of the only portrait of Byron known to have been painted by a major artist. In private hands from 1826 until this day, Thomas Sully's Byron has never before been the subject of scholarly study. Beginning with his discovery of the portrait in 1999 and a 200-year narrative of the portrait's provenance and its relation to other well-known Byron portraits, the author discusses the work within the broad context of British and American portraiture of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Receiving most attention are Thomas Lawrence and Sully, his American counterpart. The author gives the fullest account to date of Sully's career and his relation to English influences and to figures prominent in the early-nineteenth-century American imagination, among them, Washington, Fanny Kemble, Lafayette, Joseph Bonaparte, and Nicholas Biddle. Byron is discussed as an icon of the young American Republic whose Jubilee year coincided with Sully's initial work on the poet's portrait. Later chapters offer a close reading of the portrait, arguing that Sully has given a visual interpretation truly worthy of his celebrated, controversial, and famously handsome subject.
Contents: Preface; Introduction: the importance of portraiture; Provenance of a painting; Portraits of Byron; First portraitist of Philadelphia; Dramatic and historic portraiture: George Frederick Cooke and George Washington's passage of the Delaware; Dramatic and historic portraiture: Fanny Kemble and Queen Victoria; Byronic Biddle; The heroic decade: Lafayette to Byron; A portrait for Americans: Sully's Byron; Lavater's Physiognomy and Sully's Byron; Sully's Byron: the quest for verisimilitude in portraiture; Notes; Select bibliography; Index.