JOHN SINGER SARGENT, Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott Jr
- oil on canvas
Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott, Jr. (acquired directly from the artist)
Mrs. Ewen Cameron MacVeagh (her niece), 1958
Her daughter, 1977
By descent to the present owners
Boston, Massachusetts, Boston Art Museum, June-September 1903
Washington D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Second Annual Exhibition, Oil Paintings by Contemporary American Artists, December-January 1908-09, no. 124
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, Opening Exhibition, Robert Dawson Evans Memorial Galleries for Paintings, 1915
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, Paintings by John Singer Sargent: Bostonian Paintings, May-November 1916
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the Late John Singer Sargent, November-December 1925, no. 81 (revised catalogue no. 83)
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, A Centennial Exhibition: Sargent's Boston, January-February 1956, no. 34
Santa Barbara, California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara Collects, January-March 1985
William Howe Downes, John S. Sargent: His Life and Work, Boston, 1925, p. 201
Evan Charteris, John Sargent, London and New York, 1927, p. 270
Charles Merrill Mount, John Singer Sargent: A Biography, New York, 1955, pp. 240, 244, 275, 437
David McKibbin, Sargent's Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, 1956, pp. 47, 94, illustrated fig. 27
Trevor Fairbrother, John Singer Sargent and America, New York, 1986, no. 29, p. 355
Stanley Olson, John Singer Sargents: His Portrait, London, 1986, p. 226
J.C. Levenson et al, eds., The Letters of Henry Adams, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1988, vol. V, p. 493
Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits, New Haven, Connecticut and London, 2003, no. 446, pp. 104-5, 291, illustrated in color
John Singer Sargent painted the portrait of Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott Jr. in Boston at a time when the artist had reached the zenith of his reputation as a brilliant portrait painter, both in Britain, where he had made his home, and in America. In London, he had already finished portraits of Mrs. Endicott’s mother-in-law, Mrs. W. C. Endicott in 1901, and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Joseph Chamberlain in 1902. The portraits of all three women hung in the Endicott home at 163 Marlborough Street in Boston; in 1907, Sargent added to the family collection, painting a portrait of William Crowninshield Endicott, Jr. (figure 2) in London.
Marie Louise 'Lulu' Thoron (1864-1958) was the daughter of Joseph and Anna Barker Ward Thoron. In 1889 she married William Crowninshield Endicott, Jr., son of Endicott, Sr., the lawyer and Secretary of War under Grover Cleveland, and his wife, Ellen (née Peabody). Mr. and Mrs. Endicott, Jr. resided with his parents, dividing their time between the family home in Boston and the Peabody family farm, Glen Magna Farms, in Danvers, Massachusetts.
One of Sargent's biographers, writes that the commission for this portrait "followed on the portrait of Mrs. Endicott, Sr., done the year before in Tite Street [London], by all odds one of Sargent's finest achievements. Apparently preferring not to take a studio for the still-undetermined period before he would leave for Washington, he undertook [the painting] in the Endicott's Marlborough Street house. In the drawing room the light did not come from a good direction, and he was told of an empty bedroom on top the house that might suit his needs.
"He went back there for dinner the night before the work was to begin, and found Mrs. Endicott wearing a Worth gown made specially [sic] for the portrait. 'No, that won't do at all,' was his comment, after which fiat he was shown a party dress, which he thought equally inappropriate. 'Haven't you got something black and white?' The result was an old flowered muslin dress, in which the picture was begun the next morning.
"The top floor of the house could be reached by a little open-grilled lift. The room itself was regular in shape, except for the rounded projection of four windows, behind his back and toward his left as he stood before the easel. He had no model stand, so he placed Mrs. Endicott just beyond the last window, where the light hit her well and she was against a shadowed section of the wall. It was not a perfect light, halftones hovering over the face, tones that were a nuisance and difficult to blend into the value scale. He got the hang of it though, and proceeded to make use of this unfortunate feature to give the picture a delicacy of tone that brings an intimacy generally lacking in the more impersonal studio lighting. When he stepped back fifteen feet from the easel his back was pressed against the window casements, and that too limited him, for he did not want to place strong accents without seeing their effect from a greater distance. As always he allowed himself to be guided by the circumstances, turning the difficulties of the situation into strengths, replacing his more accustomed boldness with delicacy, and his strong accents with subtle half tones."
"[Sargent] broke the tragedy of painting her hair gray by saying, 'I'll put some gray in your hair, because it will get gray'; successful in that little ruse, he next determined to add a stylized landscape background, doing it in tones of warm ocher and umber, carrying through, the rich hues of the figure. It was entirely different from his usual product, more intimate, with a most engaging friendly warmth. The hands and draperies were left as improvisations, a flower and a fan were merely indicated for their color, without being brought into focus of making important additions to the composition. In sum it was a large sketch, with all the best of Sargent, in a warm and mellow mood" (Charles Merrill Mount, John Singer Sargent: A Biography, New York, 1955, pp. 240, 244).
In the catalogue raisonné of the artist's work, Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray have noted several references to the painting in Mrs. Endicott's diary: "On 4 March 1903 she wrote 'Mr Sargent came at 12 to see about painting my portrait & left soon after 1.30' and 21 March 1903: 'Mr Sargent came in & staid [sic] about ten minutes to carry away some of his artistic paraphernalia - & signed the portrait'" (John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits, New Haven, Connecticut, 2003, p. 105). Mrs. Endicott showed her portrait to the critic Henry Adams, who commented in regard to Sargent's recent work "the only considerable one is Lulu's [Mrs. Endicott's nickname] which is a 'very brilliant piece of painting', as I put my defensive armor in words, to keep off criticism. Sargent knows best his own merits and defects" (The Letters of Henry Adams, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1988, vol. V, p. 493).
As a result of his popularity, Sargent received an ever increasing number of portrait commissions during the first decade of the twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1907 he completed over 130 portraits, averaging seventeen per year - a testament both to the painter's appeal to the upper classes, as well as an indication of the heightened demand for portraiture in the early twentieth century. In Britain portraiture was a means through which the aristocracy could further enhance their noble stature through the iconography and familiar associations of past generations, while the bourgeoisie continued to elevate their own social standing through ever more elaborate portrait commissions. Sargent was well versed in the grand portrait tradition, and consequently some critics even described him as a living 'old master.' Sargent's portrait of Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott, Jr. retains the imprint of earlier portrait traditions, but updates them for a twentieth-century audience. The portrait's elegance, aristocratic glamour and romantic landscape background recall portraits such as Gainsborough's Mary, Countess of Howe (figure 1), but maintains a contemporary air through the spontaneous and impassioned brushwork. In discussing Sargent's modernization of the portrait tradition, Ormond and Kilmurray note "in compositional terms, his figures became taller and more imposing than their earlier counterparts, costumes became more splendid and referential, settings grander and more abstract. The origins of the poses and formats he employed lie in the portraits of Titian and Raphael and in the ways in which the work of the artists of the Italian Renaissance had been absorbed and translated into the British tradition by successive artists, notably Hans Holbein in the sixteenth century, Sir Anthony Van Dyck in the seventeenth, and Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough in the eighteenth century ... Sargent was not concerned so much with imitating the old masters as with allowing their spirit and atmosphere to breathe in his work" (John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits, p. 3).