John Singer Sargent's Dolce Far Niente  (Frontpage)  (What's New)  (Thumbnails Index)  (Refer This Site)

Dolce Far Niente
John Singer Sargent -- American painter 
c. 1907
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York
Oil on canvas
41.4 x 71.9 cm (16 5/16 x28 x 5/16 in.)
Bequest of A Augustus Healy
Jpg: local
From: Patricia Duggleby
p  du gg
Date: Oct 2, 2005

My great-grandmother, Margaret O'Regan [later Margaret Beaton], was a companion to John Singer Sargent's mother in London for the year before she died. After Mrs. Sargent died, she stayed on as companion to Emily. She remembered modelling for Sargent 
. . . in a newspaper article from 1966 (when Gram was 90).

(Editor's Note - Patricia and I believe that Dolce Far Niente is one of the paintings she modeled for. If her arms hurt during the posing maybe she was the far left figure)

Calgary Herald
Calgary 90-Year-Old
Modelled For Sargent

By Edythe Humphrey
Herald Staff Writer

She modelled for noted portrait painter John Singer Sargent. At another period in her life, she was a butler.

Those are two of the reasons Mrs. Margaret Beaton 90-year-old resident of Kenwood Nursing Home, 1512 8th Ave, N.W,, says she is reluctant to talk of her experiences for “they seem more like fiction than fact.”

Born Margaret O’Regan at Castletown Roach in County Cork, Ireland on October 6, 1875, she had no liking for school lessons and left home while still in her teens, she told The Herald.

“My cousin Edith and I looked for work in London but because of my poor education, there was little I could do to earn a living but menial work.”

* * *

One of her jobs, with a Harley Street doctor, had developed to the “verge of hospital training as a nurse” when she committed a grave error.

“I use to sterilize the doctor’s instruments, but one day while they were steaming, I went downstairs to a shop below to look at some hats. The instruments burned and I was fired on the spot,” she explained.

Her most interesting experiences occurred during the two years she was companion to Mrs. Fitzwilliam Sargent, the artist’s mother, and his sister, Emily, shortly after the turn of the century.

“I lived with Mrs. Sargent at No. 10, Chaney Walk in Chelsea, but his mother was 80 and died shortly after I joined her. Mr. Sargent asked if I would stay on with his sister, who was a hunchback,” Mrs. Beaton said.

* * *

While she was with the Sargents, she posed as a “Turkish lady” for the famous artist, wearing “all kinds of veils so only my eyes showed.”

But it wasn’t as easy as it looked, she said because a sitting lasted about two hours “and my arms were swollen from not moving by the time a session ended.”

On another occasion, she accompanied Emily and John Sargent, neither of whom ever married, and the valet to Mont Blanc in the Italian Alps.

The trip was “by caravan with overnight stops at inns and for changing horses.”

It was in this visit that Margaret O’Regan posed for Italian artist, poet and writer Senor Stratta.

For his painting of the Falling of the Holy Women, now “hung in an Italian church” she said he used her head and hair coloring. At that time she had curly auburn hair and hazel eyes.

* * *
Mrs. Beaton still remembers the subjects of many of John Singer Sargent’s paintings, including the two girls in his first exhibited study of children entitled Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.




“Because he was shy, I never let on he had an audience, but I often watched him painting and I can still see him doing his own portrait among the trees at Mont Blanc," she said.

When John and Emily Sargent went on to Rome to visit friends, Margaret O’Regan returned to England.

She became butler to a Major Lee, and he hired her, he explained, because all the male butlers drank his liquor.

As a uniform, she wore a tailored black dress with bow tie, stiff white collar and cuffs.

* * *

Lonely for her cousin Edith who had gone to Canada, adventurous Margaret accepted her invitation to the new land.

She was met at Swan River, Man with an ox team, by her cousin.

“I began to wonder what kind of place this was, but it soon proved great fun,” she said, though a far cry from the excitement of London.

Once more, her path came close to crossing that of Sargents when, shortly before John died in 1925, he and Emily visited Banff

By this time, Margaret O’Regan had become Mrs. Neil Beaton, and “having learned everything from a bull to a cow” she was living “a full and interesting life” at Symon’s Valley.

In those days, mails came late and in bunches, so it was not until the Sargents had returned to England that she learned of their visit.

Of all her experiences from girlhood to 90, it was the days with the Sargent family that will continue to evoke her most vivid memories, she said.

  (Calgary Herald)

From: Patricia Duggleby
p  du gg
Date: Oct 2, 2005

... I have tried to determine which painting she posed for. There is "Turkish Lady", which may have been "Turkish Woman by a Stream", but that model is generally considered to be Polly Barnard. I came up with "Dolce Far Niente" [this one above] or "The Chess Game",

The Chess Game

for which the models have not been determined. These were painted at the "right" time and in the "right" place. She travelled with Emily and Sargent to Mont Blanc in 1906 but chose to return to London rather than go on to Rome with them.

. . . And I found out why Margaret left the Sargent's employ. Seems she had a falling out with Sargent's sister Violet, and since Gram was not known for her reticence, I'm sure they had words. She returned to England to become a butler, a non-traditional occupation for a woman in 1906. 

I've attached a jpeg file of the article and photo form the Calgary Herald from 1966. I hope you can read it.

Gram also said she posed as a "Spanish Lady", but I have not been able to find a painting.

I hope someone can shed some light on our little family mystery...  I would like to know more about Margaret (O'Regan) Beaton's life as an artist's model and if you have ever heard of Margaret O'Regan, companion to Emily, or if her name has ever come up with reference to the 1906 trip to the Italian Aps. I look forward to hearing from some of your correspondents

Oct 5, 2005

I'm so pleased you enjoyed reading the article. She was a feisty lady, even in old age.  I've attached three photos of Margaret which might give you a clue to the identity of the mysterious models in the paintings. There aren't that many of her as a younger woman: she was the wife of a rancher/farmer and money was scarce. But these might help.

Oct 17, 2005

I don't have much to add to the article and my other posts, but here goes.

The "Spanish Lady" painting is by Carlo Stratta and it is purported to have hung in the Tate Gallery in London, England, although I can't find a current reference for anything by Stratta. He used Margaret's head and hair for one of the women in the painting "Falling of the Holy Women".

When Margaret left the Sargent's employ, she went to work for a Lord Newton, of Sandringham, England, according to my sources. I believe that was the same person as Major Lee: often the name of an inherited title if different from a person's "real" name. Major Lee's nephew was the Honourable Piers Lee, who was equerry to King George VI. Lee told Margaret not to go to Canada, that she would live to regret it. When King George VI toured Canada in 1939, he wanted to meet with Margaret but she refused. She didn't want him to know how much her life had changed and how she had "come down in the world".

Margaret emigrated to Canada about 1910: we know she ended up in Lethbridge, Alberta, in 1911, where she worked as a waitress in one of the local hotels. Lethbridge was a rough  western town, although not wild. After all, we had the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to keep order! Margaret married Neil Beaton, a rancher, in 1914. 

Thank you!

Pat Duggleby
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

(post at forum)



Sargent in Italy, 2002-2003

Photo of article

Mrs. Margaret Beaton Holding
Watercolor Painted by Sargent's Mother

Margaret O'Regan -
Norfolk England 1890s

Margaret Beaton, (nee O'Regan) -
Spring 1916

Margaret Beaton, (nee O'Regan) -
Los Angeles 1923

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By:  Natasha Wallace
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