John Singer Sargent, R.A.
1856-1925 | American
Portrait of Angela McInnes
Signed and dated 'John S. Sargent 1915' (lower right)
Charcoal on paper
Paper watermarked 'MICHALLET/ FRANCE'
John Singer Sargent was considered the leading portraitist of his generation, having painted the likes of Lady Evelyn Cavendish, Claude Monet, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Theodore Roosevelt and the infamous Madame Pierre Gautreau. His portraits of his friends and family are often considered among his most successful and innovative work, and this captivating portrait of charismatic Angela McInnes is no exception. Intimate and modern, it represents all the best qualities of his finest portraiture in a unique charcoal medium.
Though John Singer Sargent’s technical skill is on full display in this charcoal on paper portrait, his sitter is fascinating in her own right. Sargent has captured Angela McInnes, later Angela Thirkell, a prolific English novelist of the early 20th century. After her second marriage to George Lancelot Allnut Thirkell in 1918, the married couple decided to sail for Australia with their children. It is upon arriving that Angela began her forays into writing, looking for more income to maintain the well-to-do lifestyle she had previously enjoyed in London. From an established English family that included figures like author J.M. Barrie, author Rudyard Kipling and Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, Angela quickly became tired of Australia and fled back to England to live comfortably once more. It is there that her writing career blossomed, publishing one book per year from 1933 through 1961.
In this portrait, John Singer Sargent has captured Angela before her move to Australia, during her first marriage to James Campbell McInnes, a professional concert singer who she would divorce for adultery two years later in a flare of publicity. Though there is no way the sitter knew yet of her future, Sargent has captured her independence in this portrait. As her biographer Margot Strickland would later write, “Everyone remarked upon it. He [Sargent] had exactly captured Angela's pride and vulnerability: her swan neck was elongated, her mouth tremulous; there was a fierce gaze in her eyes” (Strickland 33).
Born in Florence to American parents, Sargent began his formal art training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence in 1871. In order to advance his education, the burgeoning artist moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts from 1874 to 1878 under the great Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran, whose influence would play a pivotal part throughout Sargent’s artistic career. In fact, at his first showing at the Paris Salon in 1879, he exhibited a portrait of Duran.
After a somewhat tumultuous start on the Paris art scene, the attention his work garnered at the Salon propelled Sargent to great success as a portrait painter, and he exhibited there regularly. He quickly drew the attention of society’s elite, making Sargent one of the most sought-after and respected portraitists of the era, both in Europe and America. This charcoal on paper original provides the opportunity to collect one of his excellent portraits in a unique medium, and gain a glimpse into the artist's process.
Unframed: 21" high x 16" wideFramed: 31 1/4" high x 24 1/2" wide x 1 1/4" deep
The sitter, and by descent to her son,
Graham Campbell McInnes (1912-1970), by whom given to his son, and by descent.
M.S. Rau, New Orleans
London, National Portrait Gallery, and Leeds, Leeds City Art Gallery, John Singer Sargent and the Edwardian Age, April - September 1979, no. 74.
D. Mckibbin, Sargent's Boston, Boston, 1956, p. 126.
M. Strickland, Angela Thirkell: Portrait of a Lady Novelist, 1977, p. 33, pl. 14.