John Singer Sargent's  Portrait of Léon Delafosse
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 Portrait of Léon Delafosse 
John Singer Sargent -- American painter  
c. 1899 
The Seattle Art Museum, Washington
Oil on canvas 
101.6 x 60.2 cm (40 x 23 11/16 in.) 
Inscribed across top: à M. Léon Delafosse souvenir amical; John S Sargent  [to M. Léon Delafosse to remember friendly]
  Jpg: Friend of the JSS Gallery
Léon Delafosse (1874 - 1951) was talented and gifted pianist and composer. He came from very humble beginnings but rose to the highest levels of Society. He studied piano and at the early age of 13 won his first prize. He spent years performing in the drawing room of the Countess Saussine. 

From there he was introduced to the writer  
Count Robert de MontesquiouMarcel Proust and the Count Robert de Montesquiou. The Count took a liking to the young pianist and brought him under his considerable wing of influence. Delafosse's career took off like a rocket and he was performing all over Europe and London playing at such events as a literary feast at Versailles Palace [1].  In 1894 he set to music one of Proust's poem "Mensonges" (Lies) and Proust praised Delafosse over and over in the press.  

But by 1897 the friendship between Montesquiou and Delafosse came to a sudden and bitter end. As if on a whim Montesquiou cast him off and ridiculed him. The socialites who had embraced Delafosse before, now shunned him and he found himself without patrons. Even Proust, whom had praised him  before, was now openly ridiculing him [2]. 

A great example of the  "revenge" Montesuiou extracted from Delafosse is aptly highlighted in Marcel Proust, Correspondence.   

(See text from Marcel Proust) 

Sargent, on the other hand, wasn't one to cast off friendships lightly. The date of the painting is an approximate since we know Sargent showed it in Boston in 1899. But even as late of 1902 (again approximately), John had dedicated the watercolor "The Grand Canal Venice" (thumbnail) to Delafosse. [3] 

In Proust's monumental book entitled "Remembrance of Things Past"  (there were something like over 400 different characters in this weighty tome) the character of Charles Morel (whom was a gifted violinist) was modeled in part on Delafosse. 
Photo of Léon Delafosse 

I'm not really sure whatever became of Delafosse. It seems Montesquiou was largely successful at crushing his career. At least, it appears, he never was able to regain such notoriety again. 


The painting was recently purchased and given to the Seattle Art Museum in 2001. It was previously held in private ownership in Italy. 

Given to the Seattle Art Museum in honor of Trevor Fairbrother by Mr. and Mrs. Prentice Bloedel by exchange, and by Robert M. Arnold, Tom and Ann Barwick, Frank Bayley, Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Contemporary Art Council, Council of American Art, Jane and David R. Davis, Decorative Arts and Paintings Council, Robert B. Dootson, Mr. and Mrs. Barney A. Ebsworth, P. Raaze Garrison, Lyn and Gerald Grinstein, Helen and Max Gurvich, Marshall Hatch, John and Ann Hauberg, Richard and Betty Hedreen, Mary Ann and Henry James, Mrs. Janet W. Ketcham, Allan and Mary Kollar, Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom, Rufus and Pat Lumry, Byron R. Meyer, Ruth J. Nutt, Scotty Ray, Gladys and Sam Rubinstein, Mr. and Mrs. Allen Vance Salsbury, Herman and Faye Sarkowsky, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Scheumann, Seattle Art Museum ters, Jon and Mary Shirley, Joan and Harry Stonecipher, Dean and Mary Thornton, Bill and Ruth True, Volunteer Association, Ms. Susan Winokur and Mr. Paul Leach, The Virginia Wright Fund, Charlie and Barbara Wright, Howard Wright and Kate Janeway, Merrill Wright, and Mrs. T. Evans Wyckoff, 2001.17  


From: Jill Mullins
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002  

About a month ago I saw this painting at the Seattle Art Museum and it struck me that the painting seemed somewhat finished.  The hands appear to be unfinished-do you know of any reason or of any theories about this? 

From: Natasha 

I haven't seen this personally so I'm going to let others handle this one.  



By:  Natasha Wallace
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Created 3/13/2002