Portrait of Edouard and Marie-Louise Pailleron by John Singer Sargent, the greatest painter who ever lived. Years back I stood in front of this painting in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It is more or less haunted by those children and the artist. You have to stand in front of it to know what I mean. I turned a corner to enter the exhibition and these two were there, and the little one in the white dress was levitating off the canvas. We walked up to the canvas and it’s just the typical Sargent mess. It looks like he borrowed a housepainter’s brush, and drank his lunch, too. Back a few feet it’s like x-rays and DNA samples and five volumes of diaries.
It’s in Des Moines, Iowa, of all places, now. Decent docent.
Sargent painted their parents first, too. They got their money’s worth out of him, no more. There was some sort of battle going on to paint the children — between Sargent and their parents, or Sargent and the children, or Sargent and the entire world, or something. He put something into the painting that’s not visible, but it’s tangible. The children are immortal now. The canvas makes you God, and some know how to paint an Eden or a Gehenna on it.