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Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler (Mrs. John Jay Chapman)

1893 John Singer Sargent Born: Florence, Italy 1856 Died: London, England 1925 oil on canvas 49 3/8 x 40 1/2 in. (125.4 x 102.9 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Chanler A. Chapman 1980.71 Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, East Wing


Gallery Label

According to Sargent, twenty-six-year old Elizabeth Chanler had "the face of the Madonna and the eyes of a child." This portrait shows a beautiful, well-bred woman who has learned to be strong. When Elizabeth was still a girl, her mother died, leaving her to help care for seven younger brothers and sisters. Sargent painted her while she was in London for a brother's wedding, and the artist composed the portrait as if to suggest a turmoil of emotions in his sitter.

The top half of the portrait is ordered and still. Elizabeth's gaze is direct, her face centered between two paintings: a Madonna and Child and a figure of an old woman copied from Frans Hals. But the lower half is full of tension. Her arms, leg-of-mutton sleeves, and the pillows seem to wrestle with one another; only her clasped fingers and elbows keep everything under control. Perhaps the artist wished to show Elizabeth as a woman who, despite early hardships, was neither maiden nor matron. Sargent was often dismissed by his contemporaries as a "society portraitist," but his paintings always convey the human story behind the image.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Artwork Description

John Singer Sargent painted twenty-six-year-old Elizabeth Chanler while she was in London for her brother's wedding. "Bessie" Chanler's determination and strength of character emerge forcefully in Sargent's remarkable portrait. The top half of the portrait is ordered and still. Chanler's gaze is direct, her face centered between two painting: a Madonna and Child and a figure of an old woman copied from Frans Hals. The lower half, however, is full of tension. Chanler's arms, leg-of-mutton sleeves, and the pillows seem to wrestle with one another; only her clasped fingers and elbows keep everything under control.

Smithsonian American Art Museum: Commemorative Guide. Nashville, TN: Beckon Books, 2015.

Keywords

Figure(s) in interior - domestic

Portrait female - Chanler, Elizabeth Winthrop

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

About John Singer Sargent

Born: Florence, Italy 1856 Died: London, England 1925

More works in the collection by
John Singer Sargent