John Singer Sargent

Vernon Lee

1881

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 537 x 432 mm
frame: 750 x 640 x 88 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Miss Vernon Lee through Miss Cooper Willis 1935
Reference
N04787

Display caption

Vernon Lee was the pseudonym of the writer Violet Paget (1856-1935), best known for her books on Italian Renaissance art. Sargent had known her since childhood when their families had been neighbours in Nice, and she remained a friend all his life. This portrait sketch was painted in a single session lasting three hours. Sargent gave it to her, writing on it through the paint 'to my friend Violet'.
From the late 1870s Sargent was amongst those artists trained in Paris who made Impressionism an international style, blended with the technique and attitudes of old masters such as Velasquez. In this sketch his free brushwork makes for a brilliant illusion, and suggests the ambiguity of this author who adopted a male name.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

N04787 VERNON LEE 1881

Inscr. ‘To my friend Violet John S. Sargent’ incised into the paint t.r.
Canvas, 21 1/8×17 (53·75×43·25).
Bequeathed by Miss Vernon Lee through Miss Cooper Willis 1935.
Coll: Given by the artist to the sitter 1881 and bequeathed by her to the Tate Gallery through her executrix Miss Irene Cooper Willis 1935.
Exh: Copley Hall, Boston, February–March 1899 (106); R.A., winter 1926 (361), as ‘Portrait of a Lady’ (repr. Illustrations of the Sargent Exhibition, p.20); Tate Gallery, June–October 1926, as ‘Portrait of a Lady’.
Lit: Downes, 1925, p.295 (in the section devoted to drawings); Charteris, 1927, pp.137, 250, 258, repr. facing p.236; Mount, 1955, pp.94, 429, repr. p.144; McKibbin, 1956, p.114; Mount, 1957, pp.80, 337; Peter Gunn, Vernon Lee: Violet Paget 1856–1935, 1964, pp.78, 90.
Repr: John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, 1958, p.95 (in colour).

‘Vernon Lee’ was the pseudonym of the author Violet Paget (1856–1935), whose reputation was established by her books on Italian Renaissance art, travel and fiction. Sargent had known her since childhood when their respective families had been neighbours in Nice. Miss Paget, in her tribute to Sargent (Charteris, p.238), gave the date of their first meeting as winter 1866–7, but Charteris, McKibbin and Mount all speak of 1862 as the year in which the Sargents first settled in Nice, and Miss Paget's memory may have been at fault. Mount has confirmed (letter of 15 May 1963) that the dates of the Sargent family's various peregrinations may be deduced from the hundred or so letters of Dr Fitz William Sargent in the possession of the family. This portrait was done in 1881 when both sitter and painter were in London. There are two drawings of the same sitter, both of 1889, one in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and the other in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard (sketch-book, 1937.7.26, No.3).

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

Explore