The enigma of Isabella Stewart Gardner : a reflection of social and cultural identity in John Singer Sargent's image of an American socialite
Petrosian, Christina Susette.
Thesis (M.A.L.S.)--Georgetown University, 2011.; Includes bibliographical references.; Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format. All portraits have something to tell us about the essence that best make a particular identity decipherable. While portraits purport to allow us the close observation of a single, localized individual, we discern meaning in it to the extent that it appears to reveal something about general human traits and social relationships. In this regard, portraits fall between two extremes. At one extreme is the portrait that gives such a fixed and rigid notion of its human subject that the subject becomes a mere object--something to stare at, to scrutinize, and then quickly forget. At the other extreme is the portrait that prevents us from treating the portrayed individual as a casual object. It instead, compels us to recognize in others, a unique character and identity formulated through individual interpretation. These are the portraits that draw us in through some unique quality that compels us to want to know more about the individual represented.; The goal of this thesis is to examine and interpret John Singer Sargent's ambiguous Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner within the context of nineteenth-century social and cultural identity. Since portraits reflect reputation, personal, and social identity, examination of cultural and societal values is key to understanding how Gardner's portrait evolved and what her image as created by Sargent said about her. The first chapter presents an overview of nineteenth-century portraiture from both a European and American perspective. Particular attention to is paid to portraits of female sitters who were members of the upper classes in Europe and America. The second chapter is devoted to John Singer Sargent. As the preeminent portrait artist of the nineteenth- century, he enjoyed international fame in Europe and America--yet he wasn't without controversy. His training, acute observation skills, and keen attention to detail were all factors that contributed to his success. The third chapter is centered on Isabella Stewart Gardner and her portrait. As a controversial figure in her own right, she was an enigmatic woman who was unlike other women of the wealthy elite in Boston.; Very limited documentation exists on Gardner's portrait. The uniqueness of Sargent's depiction compels us to dig deeper. The hope is that through this examination, we can go beyond viewing Gardner's portrait as more than a mere object and delve into the very characteristics that identify who she really was.
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