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I note that American painter John Singer Sargent died on this day in 1925. I say “American” with a little bit of reluctance, since he spent a lot of time in Europe and was highly regarded on both sides of the Atlantic.

I count one of his images among my favorites, specifically, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, reproduced below.

I never get tired of looking at this painting because I can never quite figure it out. Ordinarily, you’d expect to paint four sisters sitting on their mother’s fainting couch, one with a puppy in her lap, maybe a kitten. This painting has none of that homey, intimate quality. It’s composed in a way that you might question the relationship among these four young women if the physical resemblances weren’t so strong. Even so, there is no real connection between any two sisters; they simply appear together in a space suggesting both wealth (I mean, how many people have GIANT vases in their homes) and a kind of dark isolation. The oldest is barely present at all, partially hidden in the shadows and turned away from the viewer. I can’t find anything in the painting that explains why, so I fill in the blanks as best I can, which is both the pleasure and the frustration of spending time with this picture.

I like images like this because I like making images like this, although I don’t do it enough.


The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (John Singer Sargent, 1882)

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Sargent, the American painter who was born on this day in 1856, a couple of times before (here and here). Both times, I used the word “depth” in the title of the post and I think this word […]

  2. […] questioned the American-ness of Sargent in this brief post on his work over a year ago, where I professed my adoration for one of his paintings, The Daughters […]

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