This bust portrait (24 1/8” × 20”) of J. Q. Adams was painted from life in Washington in 1824. Thomas Sully (1783–1872), the artist, was born in England but came to America when he was nine years old and, after training for his profession, lived mostly in Philadelphia. See Earle W. Huckel, “Thomas Sully in Philadelphia,” Antiques, 54:270–271 (October 1948). The painting was first owned by Henry Clay, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, and it descended to his grandson, George H. Clay. Subsequently it had other owners, and it was given to the National Gallery of Art in 1942.
In 1824 Secretary of State Adams was at the crest of his diplomatic career, and he enjoyed the comfort of a lively family. His son Charles usually realized that he had an “indulgent” parent (see p. 19
), but he also thought him an undemonstrative one. “The ways
of kindness are not known to many who by no means want the will,
” he complained in his Diary (see p. 332–333
), “and I have this exemplified very strongly in the family.” So completely in control of himself as never to show emotion, John Quincy Adams seemed to his son to be “perpetually wearing the Iron mask” (see p. 315
). Whatever its disadvantages in a father, this same “poker face” was a great asset in a diplomat—as Charles Francis Adams himself signally demonstrated years later as the imperturbable United States minister to Great Britain during the Civil War.
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.