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A Striking Likeness

Ellizabeth Garrett Anderson by Sargent, 1900, oil on canvas, 84 x 66cm, National Portrait Gallery,, London
Ellizabeth Garrett Anderson by Sargent, 1900,

Above is a portrait of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson by Sargent. She and Sargent did not get on and, while she sat for her portrait, objected to his depiction of her hands which she considered more practical than those painted. She grudginly agreed to wear some jewelery for him and clasped a string of pearls around her neck which she purchased for sixpence.

This eminent physician appears not to have complained about the rendering of her hair in the portrait which is worthy of a Gibson girl and quite unlike the style in her photograph taken a few years earlier (see below)

It is obvious in this portrait that Sargent took liberties in the likeness to produce an effect of dashing elegance. There is panache in his brushstroke which lets him get away with such departures from exact depiction.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Below is another painting by Sargent - Mr. and Mrs. Phelps Stokes. Here too Sargent allows himself some licence in the likeness for the sake of effect. Aside the unbelievable height of his models, Sargent has given both more elegance and dash. This is more obvious if the painting

Mr and Mrs I N Phelps Stokes

Mr and Mrs. I N Phelps Stokes (detail)

is compared to a photograph of the couple (below) taken at about the same time. Mrs Phelps Stokes face is slimmer, her jaw line more pointed and feminine and her neck longer and more slender in Sargent's portrait.

Below is a portrait of Lord Roberts of Kandahar. Again we see Sargent's artistic licence, especially in the length of the head and the slant of the shoulders. Both add a feeling of nobility and stature which are less obvious in the photograph of Lord Roberts further down, Sargent also took care to place Lord Roberts at a slightly higher level which compares more favourably to the photograph.

Lord Roberts of Kandahar

Lord Roberts of Kandahar

Sargent himself was wont to say that he sometimes failed to get a good likeness. I feel that his aim was rather to get a striking and speaking likeness which is something beyond the plain nuts and bolts of portraiture and perhaps what often makes his portraits memorable.


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