Ellen Peabody Endicott (1833–1927) was a prominent society hostess in Boston and Salem, Massachusetts, and later in Washington, DC. Born into an affluent Salem shipping family, in 1859 she married William Crowninshield Endicott (1826–1900), who served on the Supreme Court of Massachusetts and was President Grover Cleveland’s secretary of war from 1885 to 1889. The National Gallery of Art collection also includes Sargent’s portrait of the couple’s daughter,
Combining technical brilliance with an intimate portrait of its subject, Ellen Peabody Endicott exemplifies Sargent’s mannered society portraiture. Mrs. Endicott is shown seated in an upholstered chair beside a small wooden table topped with a book and other personal effects. The crimson curtain backdrop and Mrs. Endicott’s embroidered shawl demonstrate Sargent’s expertise in rendering fabric textures and draping. A heavy black mourning dress hints at a possible reason for the sitter’s melancholy expression: the recent death of her husband.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II, pages 113-115, which is available as a free PDF (21MB).