Arts Everyday Living: John Singer Sargent–Portrait of a Debutante, Soon to Be a Bride

John Singer Sargent, Miss Grace Woodhouse, 1890, oil on canvas, Gift of Olga Roosevelt Graves, 1962, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Title: Miss Grace Woodhouse, 1890

Artist: John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

American master John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) created  over 900 portraits during the Gilded Age in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His commissions ranged from the ultra-nouveau riche Vanderbilts to British aristocrats including the Duke of Marlborough, to U.S. presidents. Yet, few of Sargent’s subjects were as sweet (or as slender) as Miss Grace Woodhouse above now at the National Gallery of Art. Is she making her debut into New York society? Wearing a satiny costume of a peach-like color, highlighted with ribbons, starting from her diminutive shoulders down the length of her skirt. While her long fingers hold two elegant orchids, the perfect floral accompaniment.

Or is this over 5 foot high canvas an announcement of her engagement? For also in 1890, the date of  Miss Grace Woodhouse, is a bridal photo taken the same year, in the collection of the National Gallery of Art too.  Offering us the rare opportunity to compare Sargent’s painted interpretation to the black and white image by the photographer Jacob Schloss (1856-1938). Does she appear even younger here, more like a child than the adolescent girl of Sargent’s painting?

Except that Grace Woodhouse, born in 1867, was actually an adult of 23 in 1890, with only four years to live before she died on July 29th in 1894. I found her burial site on Find a Grave, the location Woodlawn cemetery in the Bronx section of New York City, not that far from her birthplace in Manhattan. At the time of her death, her name was Grace Woodhouse Roosevelt, her husband Robert a cousin of the future president Theodore Roosevelt (also painted by Sargent). They had a daughter Olga Roosevelt Bayne  Graves (1891-19162), who would donate Sargent’s masterpiece to the National Gallery of Art.

However, I only just discovered that the photograph was owned by the museum. For in 2011, the great granddaughter of Grace Woodhouse Roosevelt made a gift to the NGA of what was by then a precious family heirloom, inherited by the female descendants, all named Olga: from daughter Olga Roosevelt Bayne Graves to granddaughter Olga Bayne Painter to great-granddaughter Olga Sturtevant Toulmin.

Main source is the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. website.


Jacob Schloss, Grace Woodhouse Roosevelt, 1890, printed 1895, colloidan print, Gift of Olga S. Toulmin, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.



In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.

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