Bernard Carter (his son), 1944
Mrs. Bernard Carter, 1961
By descent in the family to the present owner, 1984
'Notable Display of Art to be Seen at the Academy Tomorrow: Brilliant Display of High-Class Art', Philadelphia Inquiror, 18 January 1903, p. 2
'The Academy Pictures', Philadelphia Record, 18 January 1903, p. 9
Evan Charteris, John Sargent, London, 1927, p. 268
Charles Merrill Mount, John Singer Sargent: A Biography, New York 1955, p. 440 (as dated 1903 and repainted 1908)
David McKibbin, A Complete Check List of Sargent's Portraits, Boston, 1956, p. 88
Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits, New Haven, Connecticut and London, 2003, no. 408, p. 62, illustrated in color
At the turn of the last century, John Singer Sargent reached the zenith of his reputation as a brilliant portrait painter both in Britain, where he had made his home, and in America. 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, Sargent's portraits were a means through which members of the aristocracy could further enhance their noble stature through the iconography and familiar associations of past generations; the bourgeoisie continued to elevate their own social standing through ever more elaborate portrait commissions. For John Ridgely Carter (1864-1944), an American diplomat in London, a portrait by Sargent would have been an ideal asset in hiswell appointed home.
Carter commissioned Sargent to paint his portrait in 1901. By this time, Carter, the son of Bernard Carter, a Baltimore lawyer and his wife Mary (née Ridgely), was enjoying a distinguished career in diplomacy and a prominent marriage to Alice Morgan of New York. Carter was well educated, receiving his undergraduate degree from Trinity College in Hartford, completing graduate work at the University of Leipzig and Maryland University and his law degree in 1888 from Harvard University. In 1894, Carter accepted his first diplomatic appointment as secretary to the American Ambassador in London. In 1905, he was appointed secretary of the London embassy and he remained there until 1909, when he became the U.S. Minister to Romania and Serbia. In 1911, Carter turned down an offer to be ambassador to Argentina and chose instead to go into banking for greater financial opportunity. Carter joined J.P. Morgan & Co. and by 1914, he was made a partner of Morgan Harjes & Co. in Paris, where he lived for twenty-five years. Alice and John had two children, Bernard Shirley and Carolyn Mildred Carter, whom Sargent also painted in 1908. Sargent made sketches of Alice Morgan Carter but a finished portrait in oil was never painted. In 1940, after the German invasion of France, Carter and his wife returned to New York, where they were well received socially; he was a member of both The Knickerbocker Club in New York and The Metropolitan Club in Washington, D.C. Carter remained in New York until his death in 1944.
Sargent was well versed in the great European portrait tradition established by Anthony Van Dyck, Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. Richard Ormond writes, "Sargent turned to particular artists for the nobility of their vision. Velázquez continued to be an inspiration for what Renoir described as 'the true aristocracy which one finds in the smallest detail, in a simple ribbon', but Sargent began to draw increasingly on the portraitist most associated with the glamour of high birth, Sir Anthony Van Dyck. It was a timely moment to appropriate Van Dyck's influence: in 1899, the tercentenary of Van Dyck's birth had been celebrated with major retrospective exhibitions at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp and at the Royal Academy in London. The dignity of bearing with which Van Dyck invested his sitters, the elegance of their poses and gestures provide a beguiling and resonant pictorial language" (John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits, New Haven, 2003, p. 31-32).
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