John Singer Sargent ( American, 1856 - 1925 )

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General Description

Dorothy Williamson was the granddaughter of George Millar Williamson, one of John Singer Sargent's first American patrons. Sargent painted Dorothy's portrait in London in 1900, at the height of his career as a society portrait painter. The following year it was exhibited at the Society of American Artists in New York. The New York Times critic wrote, "The portraits are many and good, led easily by little Miss 'Dorothy' in the Vanderbilt Gallery. . . . Seen near by, the red paint on the lips, the white paint on the little girl's hat seem quite misplaced, but as one steps back a bit the magic stroke takes place, the red lips are all right, the white ribbon is just right."

This charming portrait of a girl was painted by Sargent in 1900 when he was at the peak of his reputation and powers as an international portraitist. Unlike such famous "grand manner" productions as the The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant (1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art) and The Marlborough Family (1904-1905, Private Collection), however, this work is intimate in mood and direct in approach. With the stylistic spontaneity and verve that made him famous, Sargent has captured not only the look but the youthful spirit of his sitter. After drawing a few lines in charcoal to set the figure, Sargent composed the features of his sitter with a loaded brush, capturing the little girl's direct, almost solemn gaze and bringing life and sparkle to the likeness with deft highlights and touches of color. Form is rendered with summarizing bold strokes and a broad application of color that create a vivid and dynamic image much in the mode of Edouard Manet, who was so important an influence. Especially notable for its swift, broad painterly treatment (for which Sargent was indebted to both the Impressionists and the realist artist Carolus-Duran) and Sargent's inimitable bravura brushwork, this painting lends a forceful immediacy to the handsomely-dressed little girl.

Adapted from

  • Anne Bromberg, DMA object descriptions (1982.35), 1987, Education files.

  • William Keyse Rudolph, DMA label copy (1982.35), May 2006.

  • Steven Nash, DMA Acquisition proposal (1982.35), 1982.

  • DMA curatorial remarks in electronic record, n.d.

Fun Facts

  • Like the prestigious Colonial American portraitist John Singleton Copley, Sargent had a reputation as an expert in entertaining his sitters.

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