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Sargent was commissioned to paint Kathleen, Cary Phyllis and Sylvia Hunter by their mother Mary, who was a leading Edwardian society hostess and close friend both of Sargent and Rodin. The fan held by the centre figure echoes the overall sweep of the young women’s full skirts in what is a highly innovative composition. The sisters are seated on a ‘confidante’ circular sofa, and are shown with their dog Crack. On seeing this picture when it was first exhibited Rodin declared that Sargent was ‘the van Dyck of our times’. This is plausible, for while having absorbed the influences of impressionism, Sargent’s work was firmly and consciously rooted in the portrait traditions of van Dyck and Velázquez.

February 2010