Arts Everyday Living: John Singer Sargent, Inside the Gilded Age–Portrait of an Heiress

John Singer Sargent, Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler (Mrs. John Jay Chapman), 1893, oil on canvas, 49 3/8 x 40 1/2 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C., Gift of Charles A. Chapman, 1980

Title: Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler, 1893

Artist: John Singer Sargent, (1856-1925)

At his peak, John Singer Sargent was the popular painter of the rich, famous, and socially connected including Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler (1866-1937)  above, the daughter of a U.S. congressman and a member of the wealthy Astor family. Sargent was not only a superb artist, particularly skilled in brushwork, but he also captured the character of his subjects. 

For if she could speak, what would she say? For despite the stylish black gown and carefully coiffed hair, isn’t it her eyes that draw us into the painting? Intelligent, intense, and expressing a sense of confidence? As if, at 26, she is unafraid to challenge life or any woman or man? Yet, do we detect just a hint of vulnerability?

And was she happy with Sargent’s finished work? Or did like many of us when reflecting on our own images, find a flaw that others would overlook? Today, though whatever her opinion, Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler is seen by visitors from across the nation, a gift from her only child, Charles, to the Smithsonian in 1980.









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This media is in the public domain (free of copyright restrictions), Smithsonian.

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