A Sargent Portrait Acquired by the Amon Carter Museum


John Singer Sargent
Edwin Booth, 1890
Oil on Canvas - 222.3 x 156.8 cm
Fort Worth, Amon Carter Museum of Art
Photo : Amon Carter Museum of Art

12/9/13 - Acquisition - Fort Worth, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art - Sargent did not only apply his talents as a portraitist to women, as shown by this likeness of Edwin Booth (1833-1893), which the Amon Carter Museum in Forth Worth, specialized in American art, acquired recently. Booth was a famous American actor ; his brother, also an actor, is better known today as Lincoln’s assassin.
The painting was commissioned in 1890 by the members of the Players’ Club in New York, a circle of actors and art professionals, founded by Booth in 1888. The portrait hung there until 2002 when it was sold to Warren Adelson, the owner of the gallery from which it was purchased.

The painter represented the actor standing, not in a theater costume but instead dressed in an elegant three-piece suit, revealing his social status rather than his profession ; in fact, he flattered his model who is seen as tall and thin. Sargent no doubt took into account the fact that the canvas was to hang slightly higher, above a fireplace. At once natural but theatrical at the same time, Booth’s attitude suggests the dual nature of the portrait depicting both a public figure and a private individual. We find this duality in the portrait of Edouard Pailleron. His left leg a bit forward, his eyes looking out ahead of him perhaps to an invisible visitor, Edwin Booth seems to be on the point of breaking out into a tirade, a line or a soliloquy. Behind him, we catch a glimpse of the club’s fireplace with the appearance of a mysterious and fiery lair, adding a dramatic note to the portrait of an actor who took on the roles of Shakespeare’s greatest heros. The decorative console on the right is a bit surprising on this otherwise smooth and empty wall, but perhaps provided the illusion of being fixed to the ceiling of the room where the painting hung. The club’s interior was designed by the architect Sanford White, a leading figure of the American Renaissance in architecture.

The actor was represented by other artists, sculptors, photographers and painters, among them John Alfred Molthe who chose a similar formula to Sargent’s, while Oliver Ingraham Lay preferred to reveal him behind one of his stage characters : Hamlet.
This portrait of Edwin Booth joins another, stunning, one by Sargent in the museum collection, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard.

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Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 13 septembre 2013



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