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Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler (Mrs. John Jay Chapman)

1893 John Singer Sargent Born: Florence, Italy 1856 Died: London, England 1925 oil on canvas 49 3/8 x 40 1/2 in. (125.4 x 102.9 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Chanler A. Chapman 1980.71 Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, East Wing

Gallery Label

According to Sargent, twenty-six-year old Elizabeth Chanler had "the face of the Madonna and the eyes of a child." This portrait shows a beautiful, well-bred woman who has learned to be strong. When Elizabeth was still a girl, her mother died, leaving her to help care for seven younger brothers and sisters. Sargent painted her while she was in London for a brother's wedding, and the artist composed the portrait as if to suggest a turmoil of emotions in his sitter.

The top half of the portrait is ordered and still. Elizabeth's gaze is direct, her face centered between two paintings: a Madonna and Child and a figure of an old woman copied from Frans Hals. But the lower half is full of tension. Her arms, leg-of-mutton sleeves, and the pillows seem to wrestle with one another; only her clasped fingers and elbows keep everything under control. Perhaps the artist wished to show Elizabeth as a woman who, despite early hardships, was neither maiden nor matron. Sargent was often dismissed by his contemporaries as a "society portraitist," but his paintings always convey the human story behind the image.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006


Figure(s) in interior - domestic

Portrait female - Chanler, Elizabeth Winthrop


paint - oil

fabric - canvas

About John Singer Sargent

Born: Florence, Italy 1856 Died: London, England 1925

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John Singer Sargent