Sippican Cottage



A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Portrait of Edouard and Marie-Louise Pailleron

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.

7 Responses

  1. Gorgeous. A painter's painter, indeed – I love the details, that show those loose gestural strokes. It's hard to paint that way, to give oneself over to the broad sweep and trust that what looks rough and disordered up close will appear more alive from a distance than anything more photorealistic and exacting.

    Again, thanks for sharing, Sipp. Your blogs are like treasure chests, full of wonderful surprises.

  2. I, too, was mesmerized by this painting when it was exhibited at the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum. Lucky for me, the curator placed a bench about 15 feet from the painting and I sat and took my time taking it in. The brother looks a snob, but the girl's personality and the force of her gaze held me spellbound. Later, I drooled over the brushwork that is Sargent's brand of magic. A gorgeous painting. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Saw an exhibition of Sargent's at the MFA some ten+ years ago. Amazing, and no reproduction does him proper credit.
    The fact that young Edouard's gaze seems to say; "It may take years, but I will enjoy watching father die." makes me not in a great hurry to view the original.

  4. "Carnation,Lily,Lily,Rose" hangs on my daughter's bedroom wall. I hadn't seen this one before. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  5. I have seen the portrait of Madame X in the Met. There are a couple more Sargents in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The PMA just restored Thomas Eakins "The Gross Clinic" as well–which is another fascinating painting–Eakins is up there with Sargent.

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