The Biography of a Painting
Henry James credited John Singer Sargent with a “knock-down insolence of talent.” Among the painter’s many renowned works, few deserve the phrase as much as The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882), one of Sargent’s greatest images. The painting of four young sisters in the family apartment both follows and defies convention, crossing the boundaries between portrait and genre scene, formal composition and casual snapshot. At its unveiling, one prominent critic praised Sargent’s stunning originality, while another dismissed the canvas as “four corners and a void.” Drawing on unpublished archival documents, curator and scholar Erica E. Hirshler explores this iconic painting’s significance as an innovative work of art, the people involved in its making and what became of them, its importance to Sargent’s career, its place in the tradition of artistic patronage and its changing meanings and lasting popularity. This evocative account, newly available in paperback, simultaneously illuminates a much-loved painting and reaffirms its mystery.
About the Authors
Erica E. Hirshler is Croll Senior Curator of Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.