Published by MFA Publications, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. By Erica E. Hirshler.
“Sargent makes you feel simultaneously drawn into and excluded from the sisters' world, a phenomenon that Erica E. Hirshler explores in intriguing detail in Sargent's Daughters.” –Megan Marshall, The New York Times Sunday Book Review
Henry James credited John Singer Sargent with a "knock-down insolence of talent." Among the painter's many renowned works, few deserve the phrase as much as The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882), one of Sargent's greatest images. The painting of four young sisters in the family apartment both follows and defies convention, crossing the boundaries between portrait and genre scene, formal composition and casual snapshot. At its unveiling, one prominent critic praised Sargent's stunning originality, while another dismissed the canvas as "four corners and a void." Drawing on unpublished archival documents, curator and scholar Erica E. Hirshler explores this iconic painting's significance as an innovative work of art, the people involved in its making and what became of them, its importance to Sargent's career, its place in the tradition of artistic patronage and its changing meanings and lasting popularity. This evocative account, newly available in paperback, simultaneously illuminates a much-loved painting and reaffirms its mystery.
Published by MFA Publications. By Erica E. Hirshler.
One of the most celebrated painters of his day, John Singer Sargent defines for many the style, optimism and opulence of turn-of-the-century America. Among his renowned portraits, "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" stands alongside "Madame X" and "Lady Agnew of Lochnaw" as one of Sargent's immortal images. This painting depicts four young sisters in the spacious foyer of the family's Paris apartment, strangely dispersed across the murky tones and depths of the square canvas, as though unrelated to one another, unsettled and unsettling to the eye. "The Daughters" both affirms and defies convention, flouting the boundaries between portrait and genre scene, formal composition and quick sketch or snapshot. Unveiled at the Paris Salon of 1883, it predated by just two years the scandal of "Madame X" and was itself characterized by one critic as "four corners and a void"; but Henry James came closer to the mark when he described the painter as a "knock-down insolence of talent," for few of Sargent's works embody the epithet as well as "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit." Drawing on numerous unpublished archival documents, scholar Erica E. Hirshler excavates all facets of this iconic canvas, discussing not only its significance as a work of art but also the figures and events involved in its making, its importance for Sargent's career, its place in the tradition of artistic patronage and the myriad factors that have contributed to its lasting popularity and relevance. The result is an aesthetic, philosophical and personal tour de force that will change the way you look at Sargent's work, and that both illuminates an iconic painting and reaffirms its pungent magnetism.