Eleanora O'Donnell Iselin (1821–1897) was born into one of Baltimore, Maryland's most prominent and wealthy families. In 1845 she married Adrian Iselin, an affluent banker and dry goods merchant. The Iselins lived in New York City, where they were active members of high society and supporters of the city's cultural centers, including the Metropolitan Opera House, the American Museum of Natural History, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eleanora's daughters Georgine and Emily commissioned the portrait from Sargent in the spring of 1888, as the artist's first professional visit to America was nearing its end.
The nearly full-length portrait shows Mrs. Iselin standing before an empty brown background. Staring sternly out at the viewer, she holds a closed fan in her left hand while her right hand reaches out to grasp the corner of an ornate Louis XVI-style table.
According to family tradition, when Sargent arrived at the Iselin home for the sitting, Mrs. Iselin entered the drawing room followed by a maid carrying an armful of ball gowns and asked him which one he wanted her to wear. To her dismay, Sargent insisted on painting her exactly as she stood without even removing her hand from the table. Some art historians have suggested that this interaction explains the sitter's somewhat severe expression. When late in life Sargent was asked if he remembered Mrs. Iselin, he diplomatically replied, "Of course! I cannot forget that dominating little finger."
More information on this painting may be found in the NGA publication American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II, available as a free PDF. Find under Research > Publications > Systematic Catalogues.
upper left: John S. Sargent; upper right: 1888
The sitter's husband, Adrian George Iselin [1818-1905], New York and New Rochelle; their daughter, Georgine Iselin [1857-1954], New York and New Rochelle; her grandnephew (the sitter's great-grandson), Ernest Iselin [d. 1968], New York; gift 1964 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Portraits of Women, National Academy of Design, New York, 1894, no. 259.
- Retrospective Exhibition of Important Works of John Singer Sargent, Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, 1924, no. 33, repro.
- Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the Late John Singer Sargent, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1925, no. 33.
- Memorial Exhibition of the Work of John Singer Sargent, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1926, no. 18, repro.
- Portraits of American Women: From Romanticism to Surrealism, Portraits, Inc., New York, 1945, no. 38.
- Sargent, Whistler and Mary Cassatt, Art Institute of Chicago; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1954, no. 55.
- Portraits USA, 1776-1976, Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, 1976, pp. 28-29.
- La Pintura de Los Estados Unidos de Museos de la Ciudad de Washington, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, 1980-1981, no. 21, color repro.
- Post-Impressionism: Cross-Currents in European and American Painting 1880-1906, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980, no. 267, repro.
- The Quest for Unity: American Art Between World's Fairs 1876-1893, The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1983, no. 61, repro.
- John Singer Sargent, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago, 1986-1987, unnumbered, repro.
- America! Storie di pittura dal Nuovo Mondo, Museo di Santa Giulia, Brescia, 2007-2008, no. 208, pl. 222.
- Downes, William Howe. John S. Sargent: His Life and Work. Boston, 1925: 131.
- Charteris, Evan. John Sargent. New York, 1927: 260.
- Sweet, Frederick A. Sargent, Whistler and Mary Cassatt. Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, 1954: 57.
- McKibbin, David. Sargent's Boston. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1956: 103.
- Mount, Charles Merrill. John Singer Sargent: A Biography. Rev. ed. (originally published 1955). New York, 1969: 136, 442.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 96, repro.
- Ormond, Richard. John Singer Sargent: Paintings, Drawings, Watercolors. New York, 1970: 41, 244, pl. ix.
- Dickson, Harold E. Portraits USA: 1776-1976. Exh. cat. Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, 1976: 70.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 218, repro.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 10, 16, no. 40, color repro.
- Williams 1981, repro. 143, 144.
- Ratcliff, Carter. John Singer Sargent. New York, 1982: 14, 116, fig. 8.
- Brown, Milton W. One Hundred Masterpieces of American Painting from Public Collections in Washington, D.C.. Washington, D.C., 1983: 84, pl. 85.
- Pyne, Kathleen. In Huntington, David C. The Quest for Unity: American Art between the World's Fairs, 1876-1893. Exh. cat. Detroit Institute of Arts, 1983: 132-133, pl. 61.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 566, no. 863, color repro.
- Fairbrother, Trevor J. John Singer Sargent and America. New York, 1986: 117-119, 126, 188, 288, 289, fig. 30.
- Hills, Patricia, et al. John Singer Sargent. Exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1986: 154, pl. 104.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 136, no. 45, color repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 331, repro.
- Fairbrother, Trevor J. John Singer Sargent. New York, 1994: 70, pl. 71.
- Ormond, Richard, and Elaine Kilmurray. John Singer Sargent: The Early Portraits. Complete Paintings, Volume I. New Haven and London, 1998: no. 214, repro.
- Torchia, Robert Wilson, with Deborah Chotner and Ellen G. Miles. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1998: 108-111, color repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 338, no. 272, color repro.