John Singer Sargent

The Misses Hunter


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John Singer Sargent 1856–1925
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2292 × 2299 mm
Presented by Mrs Charles Hunter through the Art Fund 'in memory of a great artist and a great friend' 1926

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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.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry


Inscr. ‘John S. Sargent 1902’ b.r.
Canvas, 90 1/4×90 1/2 (229×230).
Presented by Mrs Charles Hunter through the National Art-Collections Fund ‘in memory of a great artist and a great friend’ 1926.
Coll: Commissioned from the artist by Mrs Charles Hunter c. 1900.
Exh: R.A., 1902 (229); Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1903 (1167); 73rd Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, January–March 1904 (53, repr. facing p.8); Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St Louis, April–November 1904 (Art Palace, United States section, 670); Society of American Artists, New York, March–May 1904 (327); International Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, October–December 1925 (275); R.A., winter 1926 (397); York, March–May 1926 (41); Tate Gallery, June–October 1926.
Lit: Art Journal, 1902, p.210; Downes, 1925, pp.57–8, 197; Charteris, 1927, p.269; Dame Ethel Smyth, As Time Went on..., 1936, p.210; Mount, 1955, pp.232, 382, 437; McKibbin, 1956, p.102; Mount, 1957, pp.194, 315, 346.
Repr: N. Pousette-Dart, 1924, n.p.; Manson and Meynell, 1927, n.p.

Finished in the artist's studio at Tite Street, Chelsea, in 1902, this triple portrait was begun at Wharncliffe House some two or three years previously, according to a reviewer in the Art Journal (loc. cit.). On the back of the canvas there is a painted inscription (possibly in Sargent's hand): ‘The Misses Hunter Daughters of Charles Hunter Hill Hall Epping Kathleen married L. Cary-Elwes of Wolland [?] Cary Phyllis married F. C. Williamson son of Sir Hedworth Williamson Sylvia married Sir Grant-Lawson Bart Middlethorpe Lodge York.’ Charles Hunter was a wealthy colliery owner, whose wife became one of the leading hostesses in fashionable society of the Edwardian era. Her sister, Dame Ethel Smyth, recalls (op. cit.) that Kathleen (‘Kitty’) Hunter was the eldest daughter, Phyllis the next eldest, and Sylvia the youngest. The portrait was particularly admired by Auguste Rodin; when he saw it after the Academy banquet in 1902 he termed the painter the ‘Van Dyck of our times!’ (see also N04469).

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

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