Sargent's Women
In this seductive, multilayered biography, based on original letters and diaries, Donna M. Lucey illuminates four extraordinary women painted by the iconic high-society portraitist John Singer Sargent. With uncanny intuition, Sargent hinted at the mysteries and passions that unfolded in his subjects’ lives.Elsie Palmer traveled between her father’s Rocky Mountain castle and the medieval English manor house where her mother took refuge, surrounded by artists, writers, and actors. Elsie hid labyrinthine passions, including her love for a man who would betray her. As the veiled Sally Fairchild—beautiful and commanding—emerged on Sargent’s canvas, the power of his artistry lured her sister, Lucia, into a Bohemian life. The saintly Elizabeth Chanler embarked on a surreptitious love affair with her best friend’s husband. And the iron-willed Isabella Stewart Gardner scandalized Boston society and became Sargent’s greatest patron and friend.Like characters in an Edith Wharton novel, these women challenged society’s restrictions, risking public shame and ostracism. All had forbidden love affairs; Lucia bravely supported her family despite illness, while Elsie explored Spiritualism, defying her overbearing father. Finally, the headstrong Isabella outmaneuvered the richest plutocrats on the planet to create her own magnificent art museum.These compelling stories of female courage connect our past with our present—and remind us that while women live differently now, they still face obstacles to attaining full equality.

Sargent's Women Details

TitleSargent's Women
Author
ReleaseAug 22nd, 2017
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
ISBN-139780393079036
Rating
GenreBiography, Nonfiction, Art, History, Historical, Art History, Biography Memoir

Sargent's Women Review

  • Diane S ☔
    January 1, 1970
    First woman, Elsie Singer, portrait https://www.google.com/search?q=the+p...Second woman, Lucia Fairchild. Although Sargent didn't paint her, only her sister Sally, he had a big influence on her own painting endevour and career.https://www.isabel.com/gallery/reprod...Third woman was Elizabeth Chanlor.All these women were from the most prominent families of their time. All were raised in the utmost privilege and excess of the Gilded age. Sargent rose to prominence by painting all the movers and s First woman, Elsie Singer, portrait https://www.google.com/search?q=the+p...Second woman, Lucia Fairchild. Although Sargent didn't paint her, only her sister Sally, he had a big influence on her own painting endevour and career.https://www.isabel.com/gallery/reprod...Third woman was Elizabeth Chanlor.All these women were from the most prominent families of their time. All were raised in the utmost privilege and excess of the Gilded age. Sargent rose to prominence by painting all the movers and shakers of the day. Although he never painted Lucia Fairchild, he was integral to her own career and success as an artist in her own right. He painted her sister Sally multiple times. If anyone proves the old adage, "money can't buy happiness, it is these women. Their stories were absolutely fascinating, their lives not without heartache and torment.The fourth woman was Isabelle Stewart Gardner and her story was the most fulfilling, her travels, the art she collected. She may not have been beautiful but she was one smart and headstrong woman. This book is meticulously researched, as the author acknowledged they left so many papers, letters, diaries it was a feast of all involved in their lives. The Gilded Age was a fascinating period and we get a keen sense of how these women and their families lived. How they made their money, spent it. We get a passing glimpse of the notable artists of the time, authors such as Henry James and other who moved in this upper class orbit.Sargent himself is mentioned throughout, and we do learn a bit about his life here and there. This though is not his biography, it is very much about these woman and the times in which they lived. Photographs of their paintings, as well as their homes and a few other items of interest are included at the back of the book. I very much enjoyed this foray into a time that has come and gone.ARC from publisher.
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  • Dem
    January 1, 1970
    2.5 StarsReally wanted to love this one as it had all the elements I was looking for in a good book but unfortunately it fell flat for me and I will try to outline my reasons why.I love reading books about painters and their muses and was really excited when I read the premise for this book. A multi-layered biography, based on actual letters and diaries, “Sargent’s Women” presents biographies of four American ladies whose lives intersected with John Singer Sargent’s. I was fully aware that this 2.5 StarsReally wanted to love this one as it had all the elements I was looking for in a good book but unfortunately it fell flat for me and I will try to outline my reasons why.I love reading books about painters and their muses and was really excited when I read the premise for this book. A multi-layered biography, based on actual letters and diaries, “Sargent’s Women” presents biographies of four American ladies whose lives intersected with John Singer Sargent’s. I was fully aware that this wasn't a book on Sargent himself but on the women that sat for his paintings and I loved the idea of getting to know these ladies. Set in the Gilded age and full of descriptions of the wealth, mystery and intrigue of this time, this really should have had all the ingredients of a 5 star read for me but I just didn't connect with the book.I think the main reason is that I listened to this one on audio and it fell flat, The narrator was good, but for me the book didn't work well on audio as all the information became too detailed and thus too diluted and I just couldn't stay focused or connect to any of the women. The research is excellent and sense of time and place should have had me captivated but I found myself zoning out and if asked when finishing to do a summary on each of the women I am not sure I would be able to complete the task. I do think I would have gotten way more from this book had I read it as opposed to listening to it. Perhaps the hard copy has images which by listening to I missed out on.
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  • Jill Meyer
    January 1, 1970
    Have you ever looked at a portrait and wondered who the person was and what their life was like? Had they been chosen as a subject to pose for the artist or had they chosen the artist to portray them? Was the portrait done because the subject was famous or the artist was? A portrait can bring so many questions to mind about both the subject and the artist. Portraits are - hands down - my absolute favorite art. (You can keep your French haystacks; give me an interesting face any old time!)Donna L Have you ever looked at a portrait and wondered who the person was and what their life was like? Had they been chosen as a subject to pose for the artist or had they chosen the artist to portray them? Was the portrait done because the subject was famous or the artist was? A portrait can bring so many questions to mind about both the subject and the artist. Portraits are - hands down - my absolute favorite art. (You can keep your French haystacks; give me an interesting face any old time!)Donna Lucey has written "Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas". She delves into the lives of four women - all painted first around the 1890's - who were either painted by John Singer Sargent or - in one case - had a sister who was. Lucey - who has written about the Gilded Age both in the US and the UK in previous books - chose four women out of the many painted by Sargent in his long career. My minor problem with the book is the choice of the four women she chose to write about. All four were similar - wealthy young women from prominent American families who were as at home in English high society as they were in the rarefied air of Boston and New York City. (Though Lucey does point out the amusing differences between the two American cities.)It would be helpful if the reader has some knowledge of the artist John Singer Sargent - American-born, British-bred - and the times he painted in. Photographic portraits had begun to be popular by the 1880's, but painted portraits still reigned as the popular method for preserving the subject forever in art. Sargent was hired by many prominent families at the time to paint themselves and their children. Some subjects - Isabella Stewart Gardner, for instance - were painted more than once in their lifetimes. Sargent painted other subjects but he was most famous for his portraits.Donna Lucey does a good job at looking at the lives - most led somewhat restricted lives because of their gender, their familial circumstances, or their health. Two gained fame due to artistic endeavors - one collected art and the other was a painter of miniatures - while the other two lived quieter lives. John Singer Sargent had a tenuous connection with a couple of the women; his having painted their portraits seemed to be the only link. With the two others, he was a bit more in their lives. As I was reading Lucey's book, however, I couldn't help but wish that she had maybe chosen someone other than Isabella Stewart Gardner to highlight. Her life story is pretty well known. I'd have liked to have read about a woman, who like the previous three, were not well-known. But, okay, here's the thing. The author has the right to choose who she wants to write about. Just like a portrait artist has the right to paint whoever he chooses - financial considerations aside. And Donna Lucey has written a good book about the lives behind the canvas.
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  • Marzie
    January 1, 1970
    I was fortunate to receive an Advanced Reading Copy of this book3.5 StarsJohn Singer Sargent has long been my favorite American painter. I first became fascinated with his work in the early 80's and was lucky enough to have been able to view the massive Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective of Sargent's work back in 1986. One thing that was evident from his massive production is that Sargent had immense natural facility that is often overlooked by his being brushed off as merely a high so I was fortunate to receive an Advanced Reading Copy of this book3.5 StarsJohn Singer Sargent has long been my favorite American painter. I first became fascinated with his work in the early 80's and was lucky enough to have been able to view the massive Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective of Sargent's work back in 1986. One thing that was evident from his massive production is that Sargent had immense natural facility that is often overlooked by his being brushed off as merely a high society portraitist. Like many artists before him, Sargent painted commissioned portraits on the Continent, in England, and in the United States, in order to make a living. These funded his peregrinations, documented in exquisite watercolours, oils, and simple sketches, throughout Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. His society portraits, many of which look as if they have captured characters straight out of an Edith Wharton novel, run the gamut from an homage to Velazquez (The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882) to the famously scandal-imbued Madame X (Virginie Amélie Avegno, Madame Pierre Gautreau, in a portrait that pretty much ruined her life). Sargent, an American expat who grew up in British and European society, was able to blend smoothly into high society and, until the "petite gaffe" with Virginie Gautreau at the Paris Salon exhibition in 1884, enjoyed a reputation of pleasant discretion. His reputation badly frayed after the Paris Salon of 1884, he departed Paris with the painting in tow. Sargent quickly recovered his reputation in England and the US, taking on some of his best known portraits. (Virginie, on the other hand, withdrew from society and though later commissioned portraits by Courtois and de la Gandara, never recovered her reputation, and was separated from her husband at her death. An interested reader can get the short version here or check out the book Strapless. )Modern viewers of Sargent's portraits may look at them and wonder who exactly these people were. While male subjects often had public lives and accessible biographies, far less is often available about his female subjects. Lucey has given us short biographies of four of Sargent's American female subjects, all of whom came from some of America's most privileged families. (Presumably American-born Virginie was excluded since she has already been the subject of another book?) Detailing the lives of Elsie Palmer, Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler, the Fairchild sisters, Sally (subject of several portraits) and Lucia (subject of none) and the iconoclast, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Lucey captures the lives of these women, particularly focusing on the period of time when they were painted by Sargent.While the chapter devoted to Elsie Palmer was interesting, providing information about the Palmer family, the Aesthetic Movement at Ightham Mote, and Glen Eyrie, I found the chapter on the Fairchild sisters to be quite odd. Although Sally Fairchild was the object of a number of portraits by Sargent including a blue-veiled portrait now in a private collection, the bulk of the chapter is about her sister Lucia, presumed too homely by Sargent to bother painting, and who was herself a painter. So little information is provided about Sally's life that I found her selection for the book to be rather disappointing. The chapter on Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler, later Mrs. John Jay Chapman, was the most interesting to me. Filled with pathos, one feels the poignancy of her early childhood and youth, and the tinge of scandal with her late marriage to her deceased best friend Minna Timmins' husband John Jay Chapman, who was the great love of her life, even when Timmins was still alive. This was a moving biographical sketch.Isabella Stewart Gardner needs no real introduction to Sargent fans, or to Bostonians. She has been the subject of several books (a point which only makes me question the exclusion of Virginie Gautreau and inclusion of Sally Fairchild) This was an interesting chapter providing a brief biographical sketch of Belle Gardner, or Mrs. Jack, as she was also known. She was both Sargent's patron and friend. This ebullient woman had a great impact on art, privately collecting works by some of history's greatest artists. (Sadly, a number of them are equally famous for being part of art history's greatest theft, a 1990 robbery of 13 works from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, a museum whose security is greatly constrained by the terms of Gardner's bequest creating the museum. Although recently there is a sign that there may be a bit more movement on resolving the heist case.)I found the descriptions of the paintings by Lucey to be interesting and I'm not sure I always agreed with them. Elsie Palmer's painting, Young Lady in White feels almost preternaturally still and constrained, perhaps presaging her decades of being caught between two very different worlds (elite English society favored by her mother and a more rural Colorado lifestyle favored by her father) and her being shackled to a caregiver role in her family while her younger sister Dos engaged in an affair with the married man that Elsie loved. This portrait is currently on loan from the Colorado Fine Arts Center to Ightham Mote, in Kent, though December 2017. The Sally Fairchild painting favored by Lucey, that of her in a blue veil, while striking, reflects the fact that we don't really learn much about Sally in this book. This portrait is also now in a private collection (as are the other two portraits of her) so unless it is loaned for an exhibit at a major institution, the reader is not likely to see it in person. She remains rather obscured to the reader. The beautiful portrait of Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler, one of Sargent's better known portraits, now held by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American Art, speaks to me less of "innocence" than of her great personal strength and resolve. Sargent's admiration for his subject is palpable in this portrait. No doubt the similar health struggles shared by Elizabeth and Sargent's sister Emily fueled his empathy for Elizabeth. The prime of life portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner depicts her powerful persona against a backdrop that would suit a renaissance painting. This painting, of course, remains on display at the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum in Boston. Sargent's delicate watercolor of her in dotage, swathed in white, is far more powerful to me than the large oil painting of her in her prime. It was touching that he painted her again, something that no doubt gave her pleasure. I do have to say however, much as I love Sargent, when I think of Mrs. Jack, I'm more inclined to think of her in the style of the dramatic pose in the Anders Zorn painting, also on display in that museum.All in all, I found the book to be a pleasant read. Those looking for a biography of more of Sargent than his subjects may be disappointed to see little of Sargent here, but I found the book, particularly the Chanler chapter, to be commendable for giving us a story to pair with these pretty society women, whose single job and worth were tethered to making a powerful marriage and retaining social position. These were real women, with real lives, loves and sorrows.Readers interested in perusing more of Sargent's catalog should check out the virtual museum of his work at http://jssgallery.org/
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  • Jennybeast
    January 1, 1970
    This is a fascinating set of biographies, not so much of John Singer Sargent, but of several of his subjects. The splendid writing takes you right into the high celebrity drama of the gilded age, and rounds out the painted portraits with all the life details one might want. I hope that the actual printed publication is lavishly illustrated, as I admit I spent a great deal of time looking for the portraits and for any further imagery of the subjects. Particularly in reference to Lucia Fairchild. This is a fascinating set of biographies, not so much of John Singer Sargent, but of several of his subjects. The splendid writing takes you right into the high celebrity drama of the gilded age, and rounds out the painted portraits with all the life details one might want. I hope that the actual printed publication is lavishly illustrated, as I admit I spent a great deal of time looking for the portraits and for any further imagery of the subjects. Particularly in reference to Lucia Fairchild. I also wonder at some of the author's choices when it comes to Fairchild sisters -- I quite agree that Lucia is probably the more interesting of the two, but given how little time is spent on Sally, it's really hard to tell. Nonetheless , a wonderful read -- vibrant and illuminating both of art history and the lives of gilded age women.advanced reader's copy provided by edelweiss.
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  • Stephanie Crowe
    January 1, 1970
    I am a fan of John Sargents paintings and especially his portraits! This is an enticing story of four women that he painted: Elsie Palmer, Sally Fairchild, Elizabeth Chandler and Isabell Stewart Gardner.All very wealthy and very interesting! They lived during America's Gilded Age and Lucey's detailed research provides a intriguing look at the wealthy and how these women lived their lives. I loved this story!
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