Art & Design Magazine

The Face of the Madonna and the Eyes of a Child: On Sargent's "Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler"

By Americanart

Set against a russet wall in a second-floor gallery, John Singer Sargent's Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler gazes out at passersby, her stare by turns fixed and inescapable. Elegantly attired, Chanler glows in a sumptuous, leg of mutton-sleeved dress; her clasped hands pin down two brocade cushions. The work, a symphony of solid and billowing forms, reveals as much about its enigmatic sitter as it does its reserved artist.

Chanler, who, in Sargent's encapsulation, had "the face of the Madonna and the eyes of a child," sat for her portrait in London, which the twenty-six-year-old New Yorker was visiting for her brother's wedding. Elizabeth, who lost her mother as a child, was, from an early age, left to help care for her seven siblings, a strength of will suggested in her probing, somber gaze. In Sargent's hands, this counterbalance between young and old, curious and remote, is conveyed in the clean lines of the gilt sofa back-an order that gives way to loose blushes of color in the richly layered cushions and dress skirt below.

For all his deftness in capturing the likeness of Chanler and others, though, Sargent surely had his detractors. Of the criticisms leveled against him, one common refrain tended to his sitters, themselves emblems of the highest echelons of society. In his essay "Me, Them, and You," writer E. M. Forster said of a London exhibition of Sargent portraits, "Gazing at each other over our heads, [the sitters] said, 'What would the country do without us? We have got the decorations and the pearls...we have the largest houses and eat the best food...and ours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory.'" Sargent's success owed much to these portraits of society's sophisticates, to be sure, but to reduce his works as elitist misses the artistic sensibility that is Sargent's. His portraits, laden as they are with metaphor, are not mere snapshots of a class out of reach. Rather, they are character studies, carefully calibrated compositions of the human psyche-compositions that express, as only he can, the intricacies of a sitter's personality in subtleties as deliberate and delicate as a pair of clasped hands.

On a recent afternoon in the galleries, a woman is sitting in a bench opposite Chanler's portrait, rapt in a silent dialogue all her own. Others approach the work, taking a minute to read the label before standing a few steps back, eyes affixed on Chanler's. This afternoon, the portrait evokes a kind of mystifying majesty, its stark coloring playing off the surrounding scarlet walls. In a gallery across the way, some visitors breeze by without paying the portrait any mind. But, of those who do catch Chanler's eye, even those in a hurry to see another room, stop, if momentarily, to exchange with her a glance or two, as if to let the sitter search or, at the very least, acknowledge, them.

Related Artworks

You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Big Food Giants Manipulate Public Health Policy in China

    Food Giants Manipulate Public Health Policy China

    Coca-Cola is at it again. As soda sales decline in the United States and Europe, beverage companies look to emerging economies like China for growth. And, it... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Dietdoctor
  • Jewellery for a Precious You

    Jewellery Precious

    Jewellery is always close to a woman’s heart. It completes her look and boost confidence. Considering the changing trends in jewellery fashion, it becomes... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Dr.jenifer Sayyed
  • Rajshri Productions’ Next Is A Film On Friendship | Hum Chaar | Trailer

    Abhishek Dixit’s debut feature film Hum Chaar is a Bollywood film made under the banner of Rajshri’s film. Hum Chaar is written and directed by Abhishek Dixit. Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Themoviean
  • Saint Paul the First Hermit

    Saint Paul First Hermit

    Today is the feast day of Saint Paul the hermit. This is a sweet and delicate Oatmeal Bread topped with rolled oats and naturally sweetened with agave. Saint... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Veronica46
  • Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu | Teaser | Pranav Mohanlal | Arun Gopy

    Arun Gopy’s Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu is an upcoming Malayalam action-drama feature film starring Pranav Mohanlal and Zaya David in the lead roles. Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Themoviean
  • A Year Of Body Positivity

    Year Body Positivity

    Last January, as I sat there on New Years eve all set to make the same old resolutions I've made year after year for as long as I can remember, I realised how... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Sparklesandstretchmarks
  • Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – Jan 2019

    Garden Bloggers Bloom 2019

    Euphorbia rigidaWhen I went out to take the photos for this blog post I was surprised at how much was in flower dotted around the garden. Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Patientgardener