Patrick Henry
Original Author: Thomas Sully
Created: ca. 1851
Medium: Oil on canvas

Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry, lawyer, orator, and statesman, is portrayed in the dignified style of clothing he wore in Richmond in the 1780s when he was described as "never without a scarlet cloak, black clothes, and a dressed wig." This mid–nineteenth century oil portrait by Thomas Sully was based on a miniature painting from life that had been executed by Sully's older brother Lawrence in 1795. The later version, however, added a few changes to the image, including a pair of spectacles that Henry had pushed atop his head, a habit he had when he was about to launch into a lengthy speech in court. As his biographer William Wirt wrote of the patriot in 1816: " … if he ever was seen to give his spectacles a cant to the top of his wig, it was a declaration of war, and his adversaries must stand clear."

Thomas Sully first painted this image in 1815, and then again at mid-century when there was a resurgence of interest in the colonial era. The artist presented this second painting to the Virginia Historical Society (now the Virginia Museum of History and Culture) in 1851.