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Thursday, 2 July 2015


Continuing with our 'picture this' series on quintessential portraits by renowned artists including Diego Velazquez, Johannes Vermeer, Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt and Henri Matisse, here we take a look at John Singer Sargent's celebrated portrait of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw:

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, John Singer Sargent:

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, John Singer Sargent 1892 © National Galleries of Scotland

'The Van Dyck of our times'- Auguste Rodin. 

'A masterpiece...not only a triumph of technique but the finest example of portraiture' - The Times, 1893. 
This portrait depicts Getrude Vernon, the young wife of Andrew Noel Agney, a barrister who inherited the baronetcy and estates of Lochnaw in Galloway. Ladt Agnew's direct gaze and relaxed pose, accompanied by her shimmering satin dress, elegant lilac sash and the blue Chinese hanging (Sargent loved collecting rare furnishings) gives the painting an arresting impact. Sitting slightly askew, with her legs crossed, Lady Agnew's pose is passive. Her hand grips the edge of the chintz chair, which interestingly is the only detail that alludes to the nervous exhaustion, known as 'neurasthenia' that plagued her early years.  Yet, it is through this pose and her cool, appraising gaze that her beauty and personality is projected.

Although the painting is a 'formal' portrait, it is an intensely alive work that exemplifies Sargent's skilfull depiction of texture and light. The handling of paint is free and immediate, reinforcing his fluent mastery of the brush.  It also reveals the strong influence of French art, particularly Edouard Manet. 

The work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1898 and launched Lady Agnew as a celebrated society beauty. Following this work, Sargent became associate of the Academy and received several prestigious commissions, securing his reputation as a leading portrait painter of Edwardian society. 

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