Sketchbook (Carnation/ Lily) Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife
John Singer Sargent -- American painter 
August 1885, Bournemouth
Private collection 
(Steve Wynn collection) 
 Oil on canvas
52.1 x 62.2 cm ( 20 1/2 x 24 1/2 in.)
signed ul: to R.L. Stevenson, his friend John S. Sargent 1885
Jpg: local

Robert Louis Stevenson is pacing and his wife Fanny is seated in background to the right of the door. By and large, the critical review was mixed about this painting. They thought the composition odd and the depiction of Stevenson strange and unflattering, just as some people had said about Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882). But Stevenson,  himself, thought that Sargent had captured correctly his odd way in which he fidgeted about the room when he wrote. 

In fact, we see the exact pose only in a different direction that Sargent had captured in his Sketchbook [thumbnail left] sometime prior to the painting. And others had noted the same peculiarities of RLS. "Often when he got animated he rose and walked about as he spoke, as if movement aided thought and expression" (Japp 1905 qu. Terry 93)

When Sargent painted Stevenson he wrote to Henry James and said that RLS "seemed to me the most intense creature I had ever met."
Sargent was twenty-nine years old at the time and RLS was thirty-four. it was less than one year prior to the publication of RLS's hugely popular "masterpiece" The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). It is fun to think that possibly Robert Louis Stevenson might have been working on the book, if not thinking about it, at the same time that Sargent painted him.

RLS was at the height of his most productive career. He had just published Treasure Island in book form in 1883 which was his first full length novel, and his popularity only grew in the public's eye with The Black Arrow (1883), A Child's Garden of Verses (1885), Kidnapped (1886), and its sequel David Balfour (1893) among others.

Robert Lewis (later: 'Louis') Balfour Stevenson was born in Edinburgh on November 13, 1850. At the age of seventeen he enrolled at Edinburgh University to study engineering, but abandoned that to study law. He passed the Scottish bar in 1875 but never practiced.  During his summer vacations at university, he traveled to France to be with other artists and writers among whom was his cousin R.A.M. Stevenson.

Eleven years prior to this painting (1874), and one year prior to Stevenson passing the bar, Sargent enrolled at the atelier of Emile Carolus-Duran in Paris. He had come to Paris to start his formal art training at the age of eighteen.  Among Sargent's friends, were R.A.M. Stevenson (another art student) and Robert Louis Stevenson (a budding young writer). Paris was the happening place to be for young artists and Sargent and the two Stevensons formed a comorodary and friendships they would share for a long time.

In July of 1876, Robert Louis Stevenson met his future wife Fanny at Grez, a riverside village south-east of Paris. He was twenty-five and she was eleven years his senior. She was an expatriate American, very independent (a bit strange from books I've read), and was separated from her husband with two children. Two years later she got a divorce and they married and set off for California for an extended honeymoon.

Like Sargent, Stevenson traveled extensively. And like Sargent, he was connected to the expatriate American community which Sargent was close to when he traveled in Paris, England and elsewhere (though Stevenson was British). 

When the Madame X scandal erupted in '84 and Sargent left Paris for England, it was his artist friends and family that he relied upon most heavily. In his darkest moments, when his portrait commissions were drying up and he considered leaving the field of painting, it was only his friends who let him paint them.

Sargent eventually painted three different portraits of RLS. This was his second. The first was done in December, 1884, which apparently was later destroyed by possibly Fanny who, it was said, didn't like the portraits (B & M Ltrs1327, 1352 and n).  The third, Robert Louis Stevenson (thumbnail) was done in 1887 from a commission of a Boston banker: Charles Fairchild for his wife.

During this period (1885) when Sargent was most low, you can see him doing some of his most profoundly wonderful pieces. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (1885-86) is widely considered a masterpiece of light. Painting such as Millet's Garden  (1885) and A Gust of Wind (1885) show Sargent at some of his freest and uninhibited, working -- almost reveling in the splash of light against his canvas.

Though it is not one of his most outwardly beautiful paintings, you can't dismiss Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife as being just peculiar. For just like his  Boit Daughters (1882), this too evokes, quite truthfully, the essence of the man and woman he painted. I am just floored at Sargent's power when it comes to painting the core of the person, and he has done it yet again -- unapologetically, and without explanation. He is a Master at what he does. And what he does best is paint the truth.  
“Robert Louis Stevenson portrait set for US sale ”, Wed 17 Mar 2004 


AN OIL painting of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife that the author once described as excellent but "damn queer" is expected to fetch up to $7 million (£3.9 million) when it goes on sale at Sotheby’s in New York.

Dating from 1885, by John Singer Sargent, a celebrated American portrait painter, it shows the Scottish novelist with his wife, Fanny, ten years his senior. 

She was married with two children when Stevenson met her, but he pursued her across the Atlantic, travelling steerage on the crossing and ending with a gruelling overland trek to California. 

Sargent painted Stevenson three times, determined to capture the man he described as "the most intense creature I have ever met". 

He was unsatisfied with his first effort, which was later destroyed, probably by Fanny herself. The artist, aged nearly 30, then tried again. 

"Sargent was down again and painted a portrait of me walking about in my own dining-room, in my own velveteen jacket, and twisting as I go my own moustache; at one corner a glimpse of my wife, in an Indian dress, and seated in a chair that was once my grandfather’s," wrote Stevenson, in an 1885 letter describing the result. 

"It is, I think, excellent, but is too eccentric to be exhibited." 

Sargent painted the couple at Skerryvore, the home in Bournemouth inherited from Stevenson’s father and named after a lighthouse the family firm built in Argyll, Scotland. He subsequently gave the work to the author, signing it to RL Stevenson, from "his friend", John S Sargent, and dated 1885. 

The painting is described in the catalogue as "the best known and most widely recognised of the striking, informal portraits John Singer Sargent began painting in the early 1880s". 

The painting was bought by Mrs Payne Whitney in 1914, and passed to her son, newspaper owner, John Hay Whitney. It is one of 44 paintings, including works by Picasso, Manet and Degas, being sold to benefit the Greentree charitable foundation set up by Whitney’s widow. 

Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife goes on sale on 19 May, and is expected to sell for between $4-7 million (£2.2-£3.9 million).


John Singer Sargent painting bought for $8.8 million 

The Associated Press 

LAS VEGAS (May 21, 10:53 am PDT) - Casino developer Steve Wynn and his wife, Elaine, spent $8.8 million for one of John Singer Sargent's best-known works, "Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife."

Wynn plans to hang the painting in his new casino, Wynn Las Vegas, scheduled to open in 2005, The New York Times reported Thursday. . . .





John Singer Sargent, An Exhibition -- Whitney Museum, NY & The Art Institute of Chicago 1986-1987


Robert Louis Stevenson
Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson, Vailima, Samoa
Mrs. Isobel Strong (her daughter), Santa Barbara, California
Sale: The Anderson Auction Company, New York, Autograph Letters, Original Manuscripts, Books, Portraits and Curios from the Library of the late Robert Louis Stevenson, November 24, 1914, lot 428, illustrated
Mrs. Payne Whitney, New York (acquired at the above sale)
John Hay Whitney (her son), New York, 1944
Mrs. John Hay Whitney, New York, 1982


London, England, New English Art Club, Dudley Gallery, Summer Exhibition, April 1887, no. 84 (as Portrait of Robt. Louis Stevenson and Mrs. Stevenson. A sketch)
New York, Grand Central Art Galleries, Retrospective Exhibition of Important Works by John Singer Sargent, February-March 1924, no. 28, p. 13, illustrated
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Memorial Exhibition of the Work of John Singer Sargent, January-February 1926, no. 11, p. 4, illustrated
Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, A Century of Progress: Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, June-November 1933, no. 479, p. 65, illustrated
San Francisco, California, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum and California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Exhibition of American Painting, June-July 1935, no. 198, illustrated
Cleveland, Ohio, The Cleveland Museum of Art, American Painting from 1860 until Today, June-October 1937, no. 169, p. 38, illustrated pl. 6
Paris, France, Musée du Jeu de Paume, Tros Siècles d’Art aux Etats-Unis, 1938, no. 149, illustrated fig. 14
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Survey of American Paintings, October-December 1940, no. 198
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Romantic Painting in America, November 1943-February 1944, no. 182, p. 141, illustrated p. 81
New York, Portraits Inc., Portraits of Personalities Past and Present for the Benefit of Visiting Nurse Service of New York, January-February 1952, no. 39
New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Art Gallery, Pictures Collected by Yale Alumni, May-June 1956, no. 119, illustrated
London, England, The Tate Gallery, The John Hay Whitney Collection, December 1960-January 1961, no. 54, illustrated in color
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 18th and 19th Century American Paintings from Private Collections, June-September 1972
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The John Hay Whitney Collection, May-September 1983, no. 72, p. 170, illustrated in color p. 171
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, John Singer Sargent, October 1986-January 1987, p. 287, illustrated in color fig. 49, p. 79
Washington, D.C., The National Portrait Gallery, Five of Hearts: A Washington Friendship, June-November 1990, no. 75
Williamstown, Massachusetts, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Uncanny Spectacle: The Public Career of the Young John Singer Sargent, June-September 1997, no. 30, pp. 124-25, 126, 147, 185, illustrated in color p. 147 (as Mr. and Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson)
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, John Singer Sargent, February-September 1999, pp. 29, 83, 106, 120, illustrated p. 29, fig. 31


The Daily Telegraph, April 9, 1887
“Art Exhibitions,” Illustrated London News, April 9, 1887, p. 406
“Picture Galleries,” Saturday Review, April 9, 1887, p. 515
G[eorge] B[ernard] S[haw], “Picture Shows,” The World: A Journal for Men and Women, April 13, 1887, p. 20
“The Chronicle of Art: Art in April," Magazine of Art, 1887, p. xxv
“Spring Exhibitions,” Art Journal, May 1887, p. 159
“The Chronicle of Art: Art in September," Magazine of Art, 1887, p. xlv
R.A.M. Stevenson, “J.S. Sargent,” Art Journal, 1888, p. 68
Sidney Colvin, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, London, England, 1899, vol. 1, pp. 362-63
Graham Balfour, The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, London, England, 1901, vol. 2, pp. 8, 109
J.A. Hammerton, ed., Stevensoniana, London, England, 1903, pp. 78, 79, 145
American Art Annual, 1915, v. 12, illustrated p. 294
Letters, Vailima edition, 1923, vol. 2, p. 355
Tusitala Letters, vol. 3, pp. 50, 52
Forbes Watson, “John Singer Sargent,” Arts, March 1924, illustrated p. 145
Art News, March 15, 1924, illustrated p. 6
Art and Archaeology, September 1924, illustrated p. 111
New York Times Book Review, November 29, 1925, illustrated p. 1 (detail)
William Howe Downes, John S. Sargent: His Life and Work, Boston, Massachusetts, 1925, pp. 141-42
Evan Charteris, K.C., John Sargent, New York, 1927, pp. 79-80, 259, illustrated facing p. 80
J.B. Manson and Alice Christiana Meynell, The Work of John S. Sargent, R.A., London, England, 1927, illustrated
E.V. Lucas, The Colvins and their Friends, London, England, 1928, p. 165
Magazine of Art, January 1944, illustrated p. 5
Janet Adam Smith, Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson, London, England, 1948, pp. 109, 111
Malcolm Elwin, The Strange Case of Robert Louis Stevenson, London, England, 1950, p. 194
Charles Merrill Mount, John Singer Sargent: A Biography, New York 1955, pp. 107-08, 430 (852); 1957 ed., pp. 90-91, 339; 1969 ed., pp. 107-08, 452
Charles Merrill Mount, "Sargent: An American Old Master," The New York TImes Magazine, January 8, 1956, illustrated p. 29
David McKibbin, “A complete checklist of Sargent’s portraits,” Sargent’s Boston, with an Essay & a Biographical Summary, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 1956, p. 124
J. Russell, “La Collection Whitney,” L’Oeil, May 1958, illustrated
Richard Ormond, John Singer Sargent: Paintings, Drawings, Watercolors, New York, 1970, pp. 233, 245, illustrated in color pl. VIII
Carter Ratcliff, John Singer Sargent, New York, 1982, p. 109, illustrated in color p. 102, pl. 142
Stanley Olson, John Singer Sargent: His Portrait, London, England, 1986, pp. 114, 115
Sargent at Broadway: The Impressionist Years, Coe Kerr Gallery, New York, 1986, p. 41, illustrated fig. 22
Jeremy Treglown, ed., The Lantern Bearers and Other Essays, London, England, 1988, illustrated in color on the cover (detail)
Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, eds., The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, New Haven, Connecticut, 1995, vol. 5, pp. 124, 137, 210
Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: The Early Portraits, New Haven, Connecticut, 1998, no. 162, pp. 5, 13, 129, 158, 162, 164, 167-69, 255, illustrated in color pp. 162 (detail), 168

From: Sothebys

The first [portrait of Stevenson], an endeavor of 1884, now missing and most likely destroyed by Stevenson’s wife Fanny, was not to the artist’s liking, as noted in a letter of that year from Stevenson to W.E. Henley, “He is not pleased; wants to do me again in several positions; walking about and talking is his main notion. We both lost our hearts to him: a person with a kind of exhibition manner and English accent, who proves on examination, simple, bashful, honest, enthusiastic and rude with a perfect (but quite inoffensive) English rudeness” (Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: The Early Portraits, New Haven, Connecticut, 1998 p. 141). In Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife Sargent realized his notion of the writer in motion and conversation. 

Sargent painted Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife while visiting Bournemouth, a resort town on the coast of England south of London, where Stevenson and his wife Fanny lived at Skerryvore (figure 2), a house inherited from Stevenson’s father and named after a lighthouse the family firm built in Argyll, Scotland. Stevenson, a Scottish novelist and poet famed for his adventure tales Treasure Island and Kidnapped among other writings, was often unwell and retired to Skerryvore on regular occasions to recover from his illnesses. Sargent likely met Stevenson through Henry James or R.A.M. Stevenson, the writer’s cousin who also studied painting with Sargent in Paris. According to Carol Troyen, “They may well have met in France in the mid-1870s; by the mid-1880s, when Stevenson began to sit for Sargent, there was great rapport between them. Sargent described Stevenson as ‘the most intense creature he had ever met' (Edel 1963, p. 87); Stevenson found Sargent ‘a charming, simple, clever, honest young man’ (Stevenson Papers, Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Yale University MS B 3413)” (John Singer Sargent, Tate Gallery, 1998, p. 120).

The Hon. Evan Charteris, Sargent’s friend and biographer who was also a trustee of the Tate Gallery wrote, “Some hint of the vitality of…life speaks in the debonair and whimsical figure that Sargent has caught in the very moment of movement. …a being, who, while lean and haggard with illness, is still for venture and conquest and ‘as full of spirit as the month of May’—his eye as bright as though he had just seen the Rajah’s diamond or heard the call of Silver’s parrot. We see him with invention quickening in his brain, his spirit astir with fancy and antic wit; a vivid personality revealed with the intimacy that perhaps a sketch can best attain. R.A.M. Stevenson described the picture as ‘instinct with life and gesture, to a degree perhaps impossible to render by closer and more explicit workmanship,’ and Robert Louis himself wrote about it to W.H. Low on October 22, 1885.

‘Sargent was down again and painted a portrait of me walking about in my own dining-room, in my own velveteen jacket, and twisting as I go my own moustache: at one corner a glimpse of my wife, in an Indian dress, and seated in a chair that was once my grandfather’s but since some months goes by the name of Henry James’s, for it was there the novelist loved to sit—adds a touch of poesy and comicality. It is, I think, excellent, but is too eccentric to be exhibited. I am at one extreme corner: my wife in this wild dress, and looking like a ghost is at the extreme other end: between us an open door exhibits my palatial entrance hall and part of my respected staircase. All this is touched in lovely, with that witty touch of Sargent’s: but of course it looks damn queer as a whole’” (Charteris, 1927, p. 80).

 . . . Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife was a gift from Sargent to the Stevensons who hung it in the drawing room at Skerryvore and whose delight in the painting is captured in a letter of August 13, 1885 from Fanny to her mother-in-law: “It is lovely, but has a rather insane appearance, which makes us value it all the more. Anybody may have a ‘portrait of a gentleman’ but nobody ever had one like this. It is like an open box of jewels. I am dying for you to see it” (John Singer Sargent: The Early Portraits, p. 167).

A Dinner Table at Night (figure 4), Sargent's depiction of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Vickers in a lamp-lit interior, is one of the first of the informal “portrait sketches” in which the artist experimented with a more fluid, spontaneous composition. Marc Simpson writes, “This is an extremely modern composition, recalling the café scenes of Degas in its point of view, sketchiness of still-life elements, and the visual wit of Albert Vickers’s truncated, marginalized figure … A Dinner Table at Night established a mode of informal genre portrait, an updated version of the eighteenth-century conversation piece, to which Sargent would repeatedly turn” (Uncanny Spectacle: The Public Career of the Young John Singer Sargent, p. 124). According to Mr. Simpson, Sargent “reached the acme of the format” with Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife. “Splendidly vivid and lively, yet deeply puzzling, such a work shows Sargent challenging the conventions of portraiture and the expectations of the British public” (Uncanny Spectacle, p. 125). Sargent’s perception of these paintings as fresh and innovative is evidenced in his decision to exhibit them at the New English Art Club, “a venue that was perceived as being an outlet for ideas modern and French in the midst of the staid British art world” (Uncanny Spectacle, p. 124). 


Sold at Sothebys, New York, 19 May 04, Session 1,  10:15 AM,  Sale N07997 
lot 12 , estimated 5,000,000—7,000,000 USD 
from the collection of  Mrs. John Hay Whitney, Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   $8,800,000 US


Augustus Saint-Gaudens 
American sculpture (1848-1907) 

Robert Louis Stevenson
modeled 1887

Created 1999