This portrait of Edmund Pendleton has a complicated lineage. It is a copy by William Ludwell Sheppard of a painting by Thomas Sully who copied his portrait from a miniature by William Mercer. The Virginia State Library, now the Library of Virginia, acquired the portrait in 1904.
Pendleton was a prominent lawyer and politician in Virginia before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. He was born in the area that became Caroline County, Virginia, on September 9, 1721. In 1735, at the age of fourteen Pendleton was apprenticed to Benjamin Robinson, the county clerk. Pendleton was licensed to practice law in 1741 and became a justice of the peace for Caroline County ten years later. He was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses for almost twenty years, a member of the Continental Congress, and president of Virginia's Committee of Safety, which effectively governed Virginia for two years. After the United States declared independence, Pendleton was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates (1776–1777), presiding judge of the Court of Appeals (1779–1803), and president of the Virginia ratifying convention in 1788. He died on October 23, 1803.
The Sheppard painting is derived from a miniature portrait by William Mercer, who created from life. Mercer was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, about 1765 and was deaf. He studied under Charles Willson Peale, a famous American painter in Philadelphia, from 1783 to 1786. Known predominantly as a portrait and miniature painter, Mercer spent most of his professional life in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He died there in 1839. The miniature format is a small painting about two inches high. The form enjoyed popularity in Europe and America from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, when it was replaced by photography. Because miniatures were small, they could be carried or worn like a piece of jewelry. Miniatures had a more intimate feel because they were meant to be a private rather than a public likeness of the subject.
Thomas Sully, who copied his painting from Mercer's miniature, was a famous American portraitist. He was born in England in 1783 and moved to the United States with his family in 1792. Sully was apprenticed to his brother-in-law, Jean Belzons, who was a miniature painter. In 1799 Sully moved to Virginia where his brother Lawrence Sully, also a miniaturist, lived. In 1807 Sully moved to Philadelphia and, after studying with Benjamin West in London, established himself as a talented and popular portrait painter. He died in Philadelphia in 1872.
In 1877 and again in 1891 the Commonwealth of Virginia commissioned William Ludwell Sheppard to paint portraits of notable people with strong Virginia connections. Sheppard was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1833. He studied in New York City and in Europe. When the American Civil War began, Sheppard returned to Virginia and enlisted in the Richmond Howitzers. He is predominantly known for his Civil War scenes and watercolors of Confederate soldiers. Sheppard died in Richmond in 1912.
1. What is a miniature?
2. Why did miniatures lose their popularity?
3. Who was Edmund Pendleton?
1. Compare this to the Edmund Randolph portrait. In what ways are they similar or different? How and why do the portraits similarly depict their subjects?
Mays, David J. Edmund Pendleton, 1721–1803: A Biography. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952; reprint, Virginia State Library, 1984.
Troubetzkoy, Ulrich, "W. L. Sheppard: Artist of Action." Virginia Cavalcade 11, no. 3 (Winter 1961): 20–26.
"The Artwork of William Ludwell Sheppard." Virginia Cavalcade 42, no. 1 (Summer 1992): 20–25.
Higgins, Francis C. "William Mercer: Deaf Painter of the Revolution." Gallaudet Today 13, no. 4 (Summer 1983): 28–32.