Ruth Bernard Yeazell writes: Erica Hirshler is a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and has often watched visitors lingering in front of Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit; on occasion, she reports, they weep. She doesn’t explicitly say so but their interest in the subjects of the painting may have partly inspired her to write this fine ‘biography’ – an enterprise that she takes to include the life stories of those involved in its creation, as well as the history of the work itself. Drawing on a diary kept by the girls’ uncle, as well as letters from James and others, Hirshler seeks to reconstruct not just the origins of the image, but the context, both social and artistic, in which it was produced. What she uncovers depends on the accidents of history: unlike many of Sargent’s later subjects, the girls were not famous, and their subsequent lives weren’t the kind that leave abundant traces. Sargent endows them with an emotional weight the written evidence doesn’t sustain, but there is something haunting about this very discrepancy – as if he’s seen something that eludes us in the historical record.
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Published by Art Data
01 May 2009