Portrait of Mrs. Edward L. Davis and Her Son, Livingston Davis

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Portrait of Mrs. Edward L. Davis and Her Son, Livingston Davis

United States, 1890
Paintings
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 86 1/8 × 48 1/4 in. (218.76 × 122.56 cm) Frame: 103 1/2 × 65 1/2 × 3 1/2 in. (262.89 × 166.37 × 8.89 cm)
Frances and Armand Hammer Purchase Fund (M.69.18)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

In December 1889 Sargent returned to the United States, and, owing to his international fame, he was immediately deluged with requests for portraits by the best of New York and Boston society. ...
In December 1889 Sargent returned to the United States, and, owing to his international fame, he was immediately deluged with requests for portraits by the best of New York and Boston society. Sargent spent the month of June 1890 in Worcester, Massachusetts, fulfilling a commission he had received several months earlier to paint the portrait of Mrs. Edward Livingston Davis. Maria Robbins Davis (1843-1916) came from a distinguished Boston family and, at the time of Sargent’s portrait, was one of Worcester’s most prominent women and the wife of a former mayor. The painting of Mrs. Davis with her son Livingston (1882-1932) was the most commanding and important of the portraits Sargent created in Worcester. Sargent used the Davises’ stable for his studio because of its size and perhaps its empty black interior. In the portrait he avoided any allusions to the location and instead focused on the figures themselves, allowing their character and relationship to dominate. Sargent produced a complex psychological grouping in which the mother is contrasted with her child. Standing -- in the tradition of the formal, full-length portrait -- Mrs. Davis projects her upper-class breeding by her erect posture and frontal pose, yet she is also shown as a spirited woman and a mother of great warmth. While she and her son do not look at each other, they interact, albeit in a polite manner, through the tender grasp of hands and physical proximity The boy shyly leans toward his mother, and she responds by sheltering him with her left arm. In this and other family portraits Sargent masterfully avoided any sentimentality while sympathetically conveying his subjects’ personalities. Sargent combined a dark palette with strong lighting, so that the overall effect is bright. Following the example of Carolus-Duran on close attention to values and the example of Spanish art, Sargent limited his palette largely to black and white while creating a colorful effect: there are subtle shifts from the cool blue-black of Mrs. Davis’s dress to the warmer brown, black of the background, and touches of light blues in the shadows of the boy’s sailor suit. Mrs. Davis and Her Son Livingston shows off Sargent’s vigorous, fluid brushwork, most notably in the ruffles, fichu, and embroidery of Mrs. Davis’s dress and the shadows of Livingston’s suit. Sargent combined his handling with an assured manipulation of dramatic lighting to firmly model the figures. He created a psychologically penetrating portrait as well as a technical tour-de-force. Sargent’s emulation of Spanish baroque painting is echoed in the faintly Spanish features of the portrait’s original frame, designed by architect Stanford White.
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About The Era

The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture....
The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture. Great riches were amassed by railroad tycoons and land barons, and along with this came the desire for a luxurious standard of living. Collectors filled their homes with European as well as American works of art. American artists, generally trained abroad, often painted in styles that were indistinguishable from their European counterparts.
Most Americans who studied abroad did so in the European academies, which promoted uplifting subject matter and a representational style that emphasized well-modeled, clearly defined forms and realistic color. Academic painting served American artists well, for their clients demanded elaborate large-scale paintings to demonstrate their wealth and social positions. With an emphasis on material objects and textures, academic artists immortalized their patrons’ importance in full-length portraits.
Academic painting dominated taste in Europe throughout the century. But in the 1860s impressionism emerged in France as a reaction to this hegemony. By the 1880s this “new painting” was still considered progressive. Mary Cassatt was the only American invited to participate in the revolutionary Paris impressionist exhibitions. Despite her participation and the early interest of several other American painters, few Americans explored impressionism until the 1890s. Impressionist painters no longer had to choose subject matter of an elevated character but instead could depict everyday scenes and incidents. Nor did impressionists have to record the physical world with the objective detail of a photograph. Artists were now encouraged to leave their studios and paint outside under different weather conditions. American impressionists used the new aesthetic to capture the charm and beauty of the countryside and the city as well as the quiet delicacy of domestic interiors.
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Label

Exhibition Label, 1997 ...
Exhibition Label, 1997 John Singer Sargent was a truly international artist. Raised abroad, he spent most of his career painting the wealthy and famous of France, England, and the United States. In late 1889 he arrived in the United States to design murals for the Boston Public Library. The following June he spent in nearby Worcester, Massachusetts working on a portrait of the wife of the former mayor of the city, Edward Davis. This double portrait of Maria Davis and her small son Livingston was the largest and most commanding of his Worcester commissions. Sargent demonstrated his famed virtuosity with the brush, delineating the figures swiftly with assertive, sweeping strokes; the young boy’s sailor suit is a mass of rippling light and shadows. The portrait is also a tour de force of black and white. Sargent posed the figures in the doorway of the Davis’s carriage house in order to take advantage of its deep murky shadows. Despite the seeming neutrality of the palette and the formality of the portrait, the artist was able to convey the affection and warmth between mother and son. Surrounding the double portrait is an ornate frame by Stanford White. An eminent architect, White was also the leading frame designer of the era. Its opulence is in contrast to the starkness of the painting; although flat, the surface is completely covered with decorative elements – gadrooning (carved complex curves) as the inner edge and crossetted (projecting rectangular) corners combined with a weave pattern. This particular design was used to frame several of Sargent’s other Worcester-period portraits.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • American Paintings from the Armand Hammer Collection: an Inaugural Celebration. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1985.

  • Miller, Angela, and Chris McAuliffe, eds. America: Painting a Nation. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013.
  • About the Era.
  • American Paintings from the Armand Hammer Collection: an Inaugural Celebration. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1985.

  • Miller, Angela, and Chris McAuliffe, eds. America: Painting a Nation. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013.
  • The Armand Hammer Collection: October 2-December 30, 1969. Memphis: Brooks Memorial Art Gallery, 1969.
  • Donahue, Kenneth.  X, a Decade of Collecting:  1965-1975.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1975.
  • Donahue, Kenneth. Los Angeles County Museum of Art Handbook. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977.
  • Quick, Michael et. al. American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720-1920.  Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1981.
  • Price, Lorna.  Masterpieces from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1988.
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art Members' Calendar 1990.  vol. 27-28, no. 12-1 (December, 1989-January, 1991).
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • Kilmurray, Elaine and Ormond, Richard. John Singer Sargent: Portraits of the 1890s (Complete Paintings: Volume II).  London: Yale University Press, 2002.
  • Ferrara Arte.  Sargent e l'Italia.  Ferrara: Ferrara Arte, 2002.
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003.
  • AA Publishing.  Spiral Los Angeles.  Berkshire, UK: Automobile Association Developments Limited, 2003.
  • LACMA: Obras Maestras 1750-1950: Pintura Estadounidense Del Museo De Arte Del Condado De Los Angeles. Mexico, D.F.: Museo Nacional de Arte, 2006.
  • Redford, Bruce. John Singer Sargent and the Art of Allusion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.
  • Madsen, Annelise K. John Singer Sargent & Chicago's Gilded Age. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2018.
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