Lady Helen: Ready For Her Close-Up

/ Art News - Collections

Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess of d'Abernon. John Singer Sargent, 1904. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase with funds provided by John Bohorfoush, the 1984 Museum Dinner and Ball, and the Museum Store, 1984.121.
Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess of d’Abernon. John Singer Sargent, 1904. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase with funds provided by John Bohorfoush, the 1984 Museum Dinner and Ball, and the Museum Store, 1984.121.

Vogue magazine has featured several works by John Singer Sargent, a Gilded Age artist known for his beautiful portraits of American and European elite, as a preview of the new show at the Metropolitan Museum featuring some of Sargent’s less familiar works. As the article’s author Mark Guiducci explains, posing for the famous artist, who generally charged high prices, signified status in most cases, for “a portrait by John Singer Sargent was proof of prominence, a publicity coup, and a launching pad for further ambitions.” Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess d’Abernon, currently hanging in the BMA’s American Art gallery, is no exception.

With his brilliant bravura brushwork, flair for rich colors, and dramatic juxtaposition between light and dark, Sargent crafts a striking image of Lady Helen, whom he painted in Venice. An admirer of Diego Velázquez’s realism and Frans Hals’s painterly brush strokes, Sargent incorporates the methods of both artists into the work. A glimpse of the Grand Canal is visible through the balustrade in the lower-left corner. He elongates Lady Helen’s limbs, underscoring her gracefulness, while the black dress emphasizes her milk-white skin, a sign of her nobility. Her direct but pensive gaze suggests her intellect: she was a member of “The Souls,” a salon of prominent intellectuals that included Henry James and Edith Wharton.

Take a closer look at the splendid portrait – plan your visit to the BMA today!

Photograph of Lady Helen c. 1910, several years after Sargent painted her in Venice.
Photograph of Lady Helen c. 1910, several years after Sargent painted her in Venice.