Sullivan, Luke (1705–71), engraver and miniaturist, was born in Co. Louth and moved to England with his father, a groomsman, at an early age. His father was employed in the stables of the duke of Beaufort, who noticed the boy's talent for drawing and arranged an art education for him in London. He studied engraving with Thomas Major and later worked in the studio of Hogarth (d. 1764) and Jacques Phillipe Le Bas (d. 1783). An engraving by Sullivan, ‘March to Finchley’, after a painting by Hogarth, was published in 1750. He also made two engravings of Hogarth's ‘St Paul before Felix’ (1751), one in an idealised manner and the other burlesqued, bearing the inscription: ‘in the ridiculous manner of Rembrandt’. An amusing portrait of Sullivan can be seen in the latter. He appears as a dissolute, dozing angel supporting the stool on which the diminutive St Paul stands. (His reputed good looks and fondness for ale-houses and brothels no doubt made him an ideal model for a fallen angel.) He was considered lively and witty and his attraction to women was reciprocated. He preferred to lodge at taverns and one of his addresses was the ‘White Bear’, a tavern and lodging house in Piccadilly, London. Despite his excesses, which often exasperated Hogarth, he was skilled in painting, and etched landscapes and architectural views. A view of Stonehenge, engraved after his own drawing, appeared in Francis Grose's Antiquities of England and Wales (1773–87).
Sullivan started painting miniatures in the 1750s and was very accomplished, often capturing more than a likeness of his sitters. Five miniatures by him are in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, one of which is ‘An unknown lady’ (1760). Le Bas's influence is evident in the miniature portraits. He used delicate colours – pale blues, mushroom, greys – and painted soft-focus outlines in an elegant French rococo style. Another fine example, ‘Portrait of a gentleman’, is in the NGI. The sitter is refined and elegantly dressed and gazes into the distance, creating a romantic mood. Sullivan's portraits of women are particularly beautiful, possibly owing to his great admiration for them. A portrait (1761; private collection) of the Austrian dancer Eva Maria Violetta Viegal, married to the actor David Garrick, is outstanding, and great attention was paid to the detail of her stylish clothing. Sullivan exhibited regularly, from different addresses, with the Incorporated Society of Artists, of which he was director 1764–70. A portrait he painted of the countess of Lennox was exhibited (1924) at the British Empire Exhibition. Sullivan certainly mixed with a cross-section of London society. He was noted both as a distinguished miniature painter and as a philanderer. Unfortunately his lifestyle finally caught up with him, and he died unmarried, diseased, and poverty-stricken at the ‘White Bear’ tavern, London, in April 1771.