A Parisian Beggar Girl was painted circa 1880, possibly a year or two earlier. There is some conjecture about the exact year. The painting now hangs at the Terra Foundation for American Art in Chicago, USA. It was kept in private collections until 1994 when it was purchased from Sotheby's New York.
Singer Sargent is best known for his portraits. Although he was born in the USA, he spent his childhood and early adult years in Europe. He trained in France at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the mid 1870s and would meet and be influenced by Degas, Rodin and Monet. By the end of that decade Singer Sargent was becoming noticed in Paris and had exhibited in the Salon. A Parisian Beggar Girl was painted at this time. Although Singer Sargent became known as a society painter in later years, when he painted A Parisian Beggar Girl, Singer Sargent preferred more exotic, more naturalistic models. Many of his early portraits from the later 1870s used peasant woman and village boys as his subjects.
The model in A Parisan Beggar Girl is said to be Carmela Bertagna, a humble Parisian girl. She is portrayed as young, pretty, and rather vulnerable. The painting is an oil on canvas measuring 64.5cm x 43.7cm, But A Parisan Beggar Girl is not really about Carmela. She is set back in the painting and where, in traditional portraiture, the subject's face is the focus, in A Parisan Beggar Girl it is hard to discern detail in Carmela's face.
Rather the painting, like so many impressionist paintings of that time, is about light, tone, and brushwork. A Parisan Beggar Girl is a textured oil painting strong on muted whites and greys. This has the effect of making the black scarf Carmela is holding a dominant feature of the painting.
The impressionist style and colours of A Parisan Beggar Girl are quite distinct from his heavier, darker portraits of the late 19th century. As an artist, John Singer Sargent evolved over the decades. A Parisan Beggar Girl belong firmly in his earlier, European years, reflecting his training, his influence, and the fashions of the time.