Exhibitions/ Art Object

Pailleron Children

John Singer Sargent (American, Florence 1856–1925 London)
Oil on canvas
60 × 69 in. (152.4 × 175.3 cm) Framed: 67 5/8 in. × 77 3/4 in. × 2 1/4 in. (171.8 × 197.5 × 5.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Purchased with funds from the Edith M. Usry Bequest, in memory of her parents Mr. and Mrs. George Franklin Usry, the Dr. and Mrs. Peder T. Madsen Fund, and the Anna K. Meredith Endowment Fund, 1976.61
Not on view
Sargent’s first formal double portrait depicts the children of playwright Édouard Pailleron and his wife, Marie. Young Édouard (1865–?) and Marie-Louise (1870–1951) are dressed traditionally in black and white, but exotic references are found in the Persian carpet and Marie-Louise’s torque bracelet and brooch. Marie-Louise, who later became a literary figure in her own right, recounted (perhaps with exaggeration) eighty-three sittings for the portrait, as well as battles about costume and the arrangement of her hair. Sargent captures the young girl’s disquieting intensity in an image that departs from conventional Victorian representations of children. Her brother, seated at an angle on the far side of the settee, seems a secondary presence.