Master Copy of John Singer Sargent, detail from Portrait of Lady Agnew 1892
Sargent’s portrait of the Scottish Lady (Agnes) Agnew of Lochnaw was less controversial than some of his previous work but fresher in its lush, more impressionist paint handling. The resulting fame of the painting helped to cement his place as a popular painter of “Gilded Age” high society on both sides of the Atlantic and also elevate the Agnew’s social position. Her Ladyship spent lavishly to maintain that position. As a widow Agnes later had to sell the painting in order to raise extra cash, albeit for about 8 times the fee paid to Sargent.
Master Copy of facial detail from “Lady Agnew of Lochnaw” a full length oil portrait painted in 1892 by the American artist John Singer Sargent. The original is currently in the collection of the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, 40 by 50 inches in size.
Sargent was a well known and in-demand American “society” portrait artist during the “Gilded Age” in the US and Europe at the end of the 19th century. What distinguished him from other jobbing portraitists of the time was his virtuosity in keeping the paint fresh and vibrant, the poses more animated and personal than most. He seems to have taken a page from the French Impressionists, several of whom he would have known.
Painted nearly life size, Sargent’s seated portrait of Gertrude Agnew is lively, her gown fresh and frothy. It appears as if she has just flopped into the chair for her sitting and the paint has spontaneously splashed into the perfect places as a result. However, my attraction to this painting was the ambiguous expression on her face, a little similar to La Gioconda (The Mona Lisa): lively, intelligent, mischievous and just a little flirtatious, although she probably didn’t have much sexual draw on Sargent. He’s generally thought to have been gay.