Step Closer


Mrs. John J. Chapman 
(Elizabeth "Bessie" Winthrop Chanler)
John Singer Sargent -- American painter 
The National Museum of American Art. 
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 
Oil on canvas
125.4 x 102.9 cm (49 3/8 x 40 1/2 in)
Gift of Chanler A. Chapman

Jpg: Carol Gerten'    

(Click image to Step Closer)

Bessie Chanler’s inner strength comes clearly through Sargent's portrait of this feminine, yet resilient woman. Although bred into a wealthy established American family, her life was not free of tragedy. She shouldered much of the responsibility for her seven younger siblings after her mother's early death; and after developing a decease of the hip herself at the age of 13, she spent two years of her life strapped to a board to prevent curvature of the spine. Still, Bessie traveled widely in Asia and Europe and would eventually marry John J. Chapman, a friend of the family (plaque from the Smithsonian).

Parallels between Sargent’s own family and Bessie are strong. Sargent’s sister Emily suffered from deformity of the spine at an early age as a result of a diving accident; and she, like Bessie, took on much of the responsibility of the family domestic life from Sargent’s mother who was always suffering from one ailment or another as they were growing up and traveling throughout Europe.

Sargent’s admiration for this spirited woman is most evident both in this painting and his observations to others. She was, in effect, the type of woman Sargent admired most and reported to have said that Bessie had the face of the Madonna and the eyes of a child (Smithsonian).




Created 9/23/2000