Beatrice Townsend John Singer Sargent Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Miss Beatrice Townsend painting is one of John Singer’s earliest creations. She was the sixth born of a family of seven children. Her father, Mr John Joseph Townsend, was a politician and a New York attorney, and her mother, Catherine Rebecca Bronson, was a close friend to the artist.

At the time, John Singer was creating some of his earliest portraits and most of them comprised children. Instead of painting pieces that idealised childhood, the artist’s lively character created these portraits as character studies of his young sitters. Singer brings out great detail of the subject’s individuality by including her favourite pet, which she clutches to the side. Sergeant captures the self-possession and confidence of the young girl as she gazes at the artists directly.

At the time, Sargent tried a new approach for every new challenge, but the premise for most of his work was to reveal the personality and individuality of the subject. For this portrait, Sargent uses exciting colour palettes to bring out the striking colour of the subject’s attire and pet. He also does away with the most artists’ use of under-drawing and under-painting, which offers more spontaneity and less controlled brush strokes to create a detailed representation of the subject. The realism movement also influences this portrait, though Sargent borrows a few characteristics of the technique instead of ending the representation of his subject. As such, he uses realism to refine his skill in representing the sitter. Critics argue that his Spanish master, Velazquez, influenced most of the artist's work as Singer had just finished studying his painting techniques.

Being one of John’s earliest works, the piece is greatly influenced by Sargent’s masters. He uses an unconventional square format adopted by Diego Velazquez in Las Meninas. He also uses the Spanish artist's method of displaying sitters in a natural, unposed manner to capture their personalities. John Singer created another portrait during that year that is dubbed the best of pieces of all time - The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. Since the painting features a group of children, Sargent uses a different approach than what was seen in traditional group portraits. He tries to portray the symbolic loss of innocence of his subjects as they mature. Sargent’s depiction suggests how people hide their true nature behind the walls of propriety and manners to evoke the restrictive environments where young women were raised.