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John Singer Sargent
Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler
1893
oil
49 3/8 x 40 1/2 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Chanler A. Chapman



“Bessie” Chanler's determination and strength of character emerge forcefully in Sargent's remarkable portrait. Only nine years old when her mother died, Bessie shouldered responsibility for her seven younger siblings. Wealth and social position did not shield her from further tragedy; after developing a disease of the hip at age thirteen, she lived for two years strapped to a board to prevent curvature of the spine. Yet she traveled extensively, spending time in Asia and Europe, and eventually married John Jay Chapman, a family friend. Sargent greatly admired his subject, observing that she possessed “the face of the Madonna and the eyes of the Child.”