John Singer Sargent

Miss Priestley


Not on display

John Singer Sargent 1856–1925
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 914 × 635 mm
frame: 1140 × 853 × 112 mm
Presented by Miss Emily Sargent in memory of her brother through the Art Fund 1929

Display caption

By the early 1890s Sargent’s dazzlingly fluid style was taking London by storm. This portrait of his friend, Miss Flora Priestley, is typical of the vitality and glamour that Sargent brought to portraiture, as well as his ability to record figures with a few vigorous brush strokes. Miss Priestley exemplifies the dark, striking physical type that appeared in Sargent’s work throughout his career. The stark contrast of her black hair with the whiteness of her face is accentuated by the muddy green of the dress and background. Equally dramatic is the scarlet red of her lips matched by the flowers at her chest.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

N04465 MISS PRIESTLEY c. 1889

Inscr. ‘John S. Sargent’ t.r.
Canvas, 36×25 (91·5×64).
Presented by Miss Emily Sargent in memory of her brother through the National Art-Collections Fund 1929.
Exh: R.A., winter 1926 (40); York, March–May 1926 (44); Tate Gallery, June–October 1926; R.S.A., 1928 (196 or 371).
Lit: Downes, 1925, pp.28, 29, 40, 176–7; Charteris, 1927, pp.99, 156, 261; N.A.C.F. Report 1929, 1930, p.44, repr. facing p.44; Mount, 1955, p.432, repr. p.144; McKibbin, 1956, p.117 (erroneously as given to the Tate Gallery by Mrs Ormond and painted 1899); Mount, 1957, p.340; Mount, Art Quarterly, XXVI, 1963, p.405.
Repr. National Gallery, Millbank [Tate Gallery], Review of Acquisitions 1927–29 , 1930, p.43.

Miss Flora Priestley was born in Florence 20 January 1859, the daughter of Augusta Le Poer Trench and her first husband, the Rev. William Henry Priestley, Chaplain of the English Church, Nice (information transmitted by McKibbin from Robert Childers Barton of Glendalough House, Annamoe, County Wicklow, 5 July 1961). Miss Priestley was said by Barton to have met Sargent when they were children at Nice, but recently, in conversations with Mount, he thought it more likely that they first met in Paris in 1882, when student (letter to compiler from Mount, 15 May 1963). Sargent painted at least four, possibly five portraits of her, the first of which is dated variously as 1884 or 1885. (Compare the catalogues of McKibbin and Mount: McKibbin (p.117) lists five oils (including a double portrait with Mrs Ormond), a watercolour and a drawing, and the descriptions he gives make it clear that they are all regarded as different works.) The Tate portrait belongs to the group painted in the spring and summer of 1889 at Fladbury Rectory.

Charteris (op. cit., p.156) identifies one of these portraits with the ‘Portrait of a Lady’ exhibited at the R.A., 1896 (402). Reviews of that year's Academy exhibition, published in the Art Journal, 1896, p.181, and in the Studio, VIII, 1896, p.111, both refer to the red, or crimson, cloak worn by the sitter and the Art Journal reviewer also noted her white dress. These descriptions do not fit the Tate portrait, where the sitter wears a pinky-violet shot-silk dress. Charteris quotes a criticism of the Academy picture written by George Moore (probably in The Speaker), in which the description of the sitter's pale complexion and arched eyebrows could be regarded as corroborative evidence of the identification with Miss Priestley. In the National Gallery, Millbank [Tate Gallery], Review of the Acquisitions 1927–29, 1930, p.23, the compiler noted that the 1896 R.A. exhibit was a portrait of Miss Priestley painted at Nice between 1879 and 1882, but this information is nowhere else recorded or corroborated. Mount is inclined to doubt that the 1896 portrait was of Miss Priestley, and knows of no picture of her in a white dress and red cloak.

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

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