National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Eleanora O'Donnell Iselin (Mrs. Adrian Iselin) John Singer Sargent (artist)
American, 1856 - 1925
Eleanora O'Donnell Iselin (Mrs. Adrian Iselin), 1888
oil on canvas
overall: 153.7 x 93 cm (60 1/2 x 36 5/8 in.) framed: 181.6 x 122.2 x 10.2 cm (71 1/2 x 48 1/8 x 4 in.)
Gift of Ernest Iselin
1964.13.1
Not on View
From the Tour: Whistler, Sargent, and Tanner — Americans Abroad in the Late 1800s
Object 3 of 7

Eleanora Iselin, a banker’s wife, was portrayed in New York City during one of Sargent’s many transatlantic trips. Arriving for her first sitting, the sixty-six-year-old matron was appalled when Sargent insisted that she pose in the street clothes she wore rather than in one of the sumptuous French gowns carried by her maid.

Her severe black dress transforms Mrs. Iselin’s image into a pillar of austerity, glinting with black beads of jet gemstones. Such superb imitations of surface textures once prompted a critic to remark that Sargent’s brushwork could distinguish “paste from diamonds.” Seldom bothering to flatter his sitters, the painter did nothing to disguise Mrs. Iselin’s large ear or to conceal her contempt as she tapped impatiently on the table. Thirty years after painting Mrs. Adrian Iselin, Sargent recalled, “I cannot forget that dominating little finger.”

Sargent’s phenomenal success as a portraitist was due in part to his prominent New England colonial ancestry, which made him the social equal to or better of many of his patrons. Rebelling against his popularity, he continually raised his prices to discourage potential clients, but the higher costs had the opposite effect of placing his portraits in even greater demand.

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