John Singer Sargent

Sharon Lorenzo’s second profile of a single work of art

Author Henry James wrote in Harper’s Weekly in 1897 about this painting:
“Mr. Sargent has made a picture of knockdown insolence, of talent and truth, characterization… a wonderful rendering of life, of manners, of textures, of everything.”[i]

sargent-41896, Tate Britain, The Meyer Family

This art exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York City showcases how an entire museum installation can be created around one dramatic work of art. Surrounded by family memorabilia, drawings, and portraits, we can see how Sargent’s one work elevated the family of Carl Meyer, a London banker for the Rothschild family, to social fame from this commission in 1896 for $10,000. Given at her death to the Tate Collection in the UK, Adele Meyer and her two children, Elise and Frank, are perched precariously on a small couch with mom holding on for her life as her satin skirt slides gracefully to the floor. In the nearby portrait of her husband, Carl, we see a successful British entrepreneur at his country estate, Shortgrove, in 1910 near Essex.

meyer-2Carl Meyer, 1908

This preparatory drawing of Adele gives us a sense of how Sargent was able to capture both the charm and good graces of his willing subjects.

sargent-drawingAdele Meyer, 1896

For those of us who struggle to get the children still enough for even a Christmas card photo, we appreciate the time and effort it must have taken for John Singer Sargent to keep the children dressed and in their poses for even a short while. The glorious pink satin and organdy dress of Adele Meyer demands a detailed look at her dainty feet, appropriate jewels and alluring cleavage. Known as both a gracious hostess and champion suffragette for women’s rights long before those arrived, we embrace Adele as the modern woman: mother, advocate, and devoted wife of a successful banker at the turn of the century in London before the world wars.

The transformation of the home of banker Felix Warburg, from Hamburg, Germany to the building which is now The Jewish Museum occurred after the charitable gift of this stately house in 1955 by his widow Frieda. The conversion to a small museum was done by the firm of Kevin Roche. The intricate interiors lend themselves to a gracious walk from small intimate spaces to larger parlors with sensitive lighting and wall labels.

jewish-museumResidence of Felix Warburg, 1908

A short visit to The Jewish Museum is a lovely respite from the experience of large museums where the viewer can focus on this one family portrait and its related memorabilia. The John Singer Sargent masterpiece of the Meyer family is on loan through February 5, 2017.

The Jewish Museum, NYC

September 16, 2016- February 5, 2017

[i] Karen Rosenberg, The Secrets Behind Sargent’s Intimate Portrait of a Jewish Family, New York Times, Sept. 29, 2016.

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