Eleanor Beatrice Townsend (1870–1884) was the sixth of seven children born to John Joseph Townsend, a New York attorney and politician, and his wife, Catherine Rebecca Bronson Townsend, a friend of John Singer Sargent’s and the subject of her own portrait by the artist.
Portraits of children are among Sargent’s earliest works and remain some of his most captivating paintings. Rather than idealized images of childhood, the artist’s lively likenesses serve as character studies of his young sitters. The presence of a favorite toy or pet, such as the small terrier Beatrice clutches to her side, serves to emphasize the sitter’s individual personality. As one art historian noted, “Sargent’s sensitivity to the complexities, intensities, and uncertainties of adolescence, especially of females, is a marked feature of his portraiture.” Here, Sargent captures the confidence and self-possession of his young subject as she meets the viewer’s gaze head-on. Sadly, only two years after this painting was completed, Beatrice died of peritonitis at age fourteen.
upper center and right: to my friend Mrs Townsend / John S. Sargent
Probably the sitter's parents, John Joseph Townsend [1825-1889] and Catherine Bronson Townsend [1833-1926]. (Carroll Carstairs Gallery, New York), by at least 1931; sold 1936 to Andrew W. Mellon [1855-1937], Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; gift to his son, Paul Mellon [1907-1999], Upperville, Virginia; bequest 1999 to NGA, with life interest to Mrs. Mellon; life interest released 2006.
- Pictures of People 1870-1930, A Loan Exhibition for the Benefit of Hope Farm, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1931, no. 11, repro.
- American Painting & Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1932-1933, no. 91, repro.
- Carstairs, Carroll. Postscript to Criticism. London, 1934: 42, frontispiece.
- McKibbin, David. Sargent's Boston. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1956: 126.
- Mount, Charles Merrill. John Singer Sargent: A Biography. Rev. ed. (originally published 1955). New York, 1969: 429, no. 8210.
- Ormond, Richard. John Singer Sargent: Paintings, Drawings, Watercolors. New York, 1970: 31, 239, pl. 26.
- The Age of Elegance: The Paintings of John Singer Sargent. London, 1996: repro.
- Ormond, Richard, and Elaine Kilmurray. John Singer Sargent: The Early Portraits. Complete Paintings, Volume I. New Haven and London, 1998: no. 46, repro.
- Gallati, Barbara Dyer. Great Expectations: John Singer Sargent Painting Children. Exh. cat. Brooklyn Museum; Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk; Portland (Oregon) Art Museum. Brooklyn, 2004: 58, 72, 156, 248, pl. 18.
- Syme, Alison Mairi. "Hedgewhores, Wagtails, Cocatrices, Whipsters: John Singer Sargent and his Coterie of Nature's Artful Dodgers." Ph.D dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2005: 49-50, fig. 2.12.