John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) Mrs. John C. Tomlinson 58 1/8 x 37 7/8in (147.6 x 96.2cm) (Painted circa 1904.)

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Lot 20W
John Singer Sargent
Mrs. John C. Tomlinson 58 1/8 x 37 7/8in (147.6 x 96.2cm)

Sold for US$ 212,575 inc. premium

American Art

29 Jul 2020, 16:00 EDT

New York

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
Mrs. John C. Tomlinson
oil on canvas
58 1/8 x 37 7/8in (147.6 x 96.2cm)
Painted circa 1904.


  • Provenance
    The artist.
    Mr. John Canfield Tomlinson, acquired from the above, circa 1904.
    Mrs. John Canfield Tomlinson, the sitter, by descent, 1927.
    Mr. Daniel Grant Tomlinson, by descent, circa 1936-37.
    Sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, May 11, 1939, lot 51, sold by the above through Carroll Carstairs.
    Braus Gallery, New York, acquired from the above.
    Samuel Hart Gallery, Houston, Texas, acquired from the above, circa 1962.
    Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, acquired by 1962.
    Gift to the present owner from the above, December 29, 1981.

    New York, Society of American Artists, Twenty-sixth Annual Exhibition, March 26-May 1, 1904, no. 81.
    Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, One Hundredth Anniversary Exhibition, January 23-March 4, 1905, no. 461.
    New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Exhibition of the National Association of Portrait Painters Inc., February 2-14, 1914, no. XXVI, illustrated.
    Washington, D.C., United States National Museum, National Association of Portrait Painters: Third Annual Circuit Exhibition, March 14-April 12, 1914 (as Portrait of Mrs. John C. Tomlinson).
    Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University, European and American Paintings from Princeton Alumni Collections, 1972, no. 24.
    Durham, North Carolina, Duke University Museum of Art British American Festival of Sargent's Works, 1984.
    Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Lawrenceville School, Collector's Choice, October 1987-November 1988.
    Charlotte, North Carolina, Mint Museum of Art, North Carolina Collects: Traditional Fine Arts and Decorative Arts, July 9-September 18, 1994, p. 57, no. 49, illustrated.
    Salem, Virginia, Roanoke College, Olin Hall Galleries, From the Collection of: Works on Loan From Trustees and Friends of the College, October 24-November 21, 1997.
    Asheville, North Carolina, Asheville Art Museum, Looking Back, February-July 2010.
    Durham, North Carolina, North Carolina Central University Art Museum, January 2013-May 31, 2013.
    Durham, North Carolina, Duke University, Nasher Museum of Art, 2016.

    W.H. Downes, John S. Sargent: His Life and Work, Boston, Massachusetts, 1925, p. 214.
    W.H. Downes, John S. Sargent: His Life and Work, London, 1926, p. 214.
    E. Charteris, John Sargent, London, 1927, p. 272.
    C.M. Mount, John Singer Sargent: A Biography, New York, 1955, p. 438.
    D. McKibbin, A Complete Checklist of Sargent's Portraits, Boston, Massachusetts, 1956, p. 126.
    C.M. Mount, John Singer Sargent: A Biography, London, 1957, p. 347.
    G. O'Brien, "Room Settings Put Art in Perspective," The New York Times, December 6, 1961, vol. CXI, no. 37, 937, p. 56, illustrated.
    C.M. Mount, John Singer Sargent: A Biography, New York, 1969, p. 453.
    M. Robertson, W. Adelson, John Singer Sargent: His Own Work, New York, 1980, n.p.
    A. Barnwell, Dora: Relationships Within A Portrait, Ph.D. paper, Durham, North Carolina, 1993.
    R. Ormond, E. Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits, New Haven, Connecticut, 2003, vol. 3, pp. 124-25, no. 467, illustrated.

    By the turn of the twentieth century, John Singer Sargent had solidified his reputation as a leading portraitist for American and European high society. Mrs. John C. Tomlinson is an exemplary portrait showcasing Sargent's elegant painterly technique and is executed on a grand scale fit for the apparent stature of the subject. Sargent remained steadfast in his unique and modern approach to realism, which contributed to some of the most significant works in the grand manner of portraiture. A reviewer wrote of his work that "his brushwork boldly challenges you by presenting a definite tone for every inch of surface... he never permits some pleasantly warmed juice to veil his view of air, color and form... he puts all straightforwardly to the touch of right or wrong." (Art Journal, 1893, p. 242) Mrs. John C. Tomlinson showcases Sargent's trademark artistic techniques and his maturity as a portrait painter who describes his sitters in truth while revealing their alluring elegance and grace.

    John Singer Sargent was born in 1856 in Florence, Italy to American parents living abroad. He spent most of his formative years travelling throughout Europe including Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany. It was not until 1876, when the artist was twenty years old that he first visited the United States. During this trip, Sargent met family, artists and friends and traveled to iconic destinations such as the Hudson River and Niagara Falls. Although much of his life was spent outside of the United States, Sargent regularly worked with fellow American artists in Paris and would later become involved in the Society of American Artists, originally founded as the Association of American Artists. Sargent's return to the United States in 1887 after a number of years abroad was highly anticipated among American socialites and upper class patrons wishing to sit for a portrait. By this time, he had established himself among his peers and word of his talents had reached far beyond Europe. It was on this excursion that Sargent painted the famed portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner from Boston, Massachusetts (1886, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts).

    By the late-1890s, Sargent moved significantly away from the use of sharp lighting that characterized his earlier portraits and instead adopted a soft chiaroscuro technique and fluid brushwork that enhanced the elegance of his portraits. The vigor and freedom of the works that he produced in the United States in the 1890s and 1900s, including the present work, serve as clear indications of Sargent working in an assured style. Sargent used his New England ancestry and his Parisian style to his advantage to establish connections with Boston and New York's elite families. The artist had effectively won over American high society and its reigning members, including the Tomlinsons, who would call on him to endow them with glamour and panache by the hand of his brush.

    Mrs. Dora Morrel Tomlinson was born in Canada in 1866 as Dora Morrel Grant to Daniel J. Grant, a successful sea captain and ship owner from Camden, Maine, and to his wife, Elizabeth 'Bessie' Crane. She spent most of her formative years in Boston, Massachusetts with her family receiving a proper education and on July 20th, 1888, she married the prominent and wealthy New York lawyer, John Canfield Tomlinson. John and Dora had one son together, Daniel Grant Tomlinson or "Sporty" as they lovingly called him. In the 1890s, they resided on the Upper Westside of Manhattan and kept a country home in Goshen, Massachusetts (L.H. Weeks, Prominent Families of New York: Being an Account in Biographical Form of Individuals and Families Distinguished as Representatives of the Social, Professional and Civic Life of New York City, New York, 1898, p. 566).

    The couple and all of Tomlinson's children, including those from a previous marriage, appeared regularly in the Social Register of New York, noted for their frequent moves and memberships to organizations and clubs that complimented their affluence. Dora lived an extravagant lifestyle alongside her husband, traveling to Europe and playing bridge with New York's socialites. In 1901, the Tomlinsons made their growing financial position known when they moved to a more refined part of the city at 45 West 57th Street and this is possibly where the present work hung. John died in 1927 and in 1928, Dora moved to Beverly Hills, California to be near her son. Dora eventually passed away in 1936 after a battle with cancer and most of her estate including the present work was bequeathed to Daniel. Devastated by the loss of his mother, Daniel couldn't bear to keep her portrait and in 1939, he sold it through Parke-Bernet Galleries under the auspices of Caroll Carstairs to Brause Gallery. By 1962, the present work was acquired by Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans and the level of scholarship and exhibition history for the work grew.

    In Mrs. John C. Tomlinson, Sargent depicts the subject wearing a striking, dark, Empire-style evening gown. She rests her right arm on the edge of the mantlepiece of the white Neoclassical marble fireplace and with her left hand, pulls back a plush, scarlet red curtain hanging behind her. The artist relies on costume to create an air of opulence and draped over the mantlepiece is the sitter's black and white fringed shawl. Sargent utilized a limited number of props within his studio to suggest rather than describe the grand space that his sitter occupies. Mrs. Tomlinson was posed in Sargent's studio at 31 Tite Street in London, where he worked and lived until his death in 1925. An archival photograph features Sargent posed in front of the mantlepiece in a similar fashion as Mrs. Tomlinson and similarities can also be seen in the style and setting between the present work and his portrait of Mrs. Louis E. Raphael (circa 1906, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, The Blount Collection). Mrs. John C. Tomlinson is an engaging portrait in part due to the inviting pose that Sargent has chosen for his sitter as well as her strong gaze and enigmatic expression.

    According to Juliette Tomlinson, Dora's step-granddaughter, the reason the present work is unsigned is supported by a family anecdote that records a dispute between Sargent and Mr. Tomlinson over the asking price of the portrait. Mr. Tomlinson refused to pay Sargent, thus resulting in him refusing to sign or date the portrait after it was finished (A. Barnwell, Dora: Relationships Within A Portrait, Durham, North Carolina, 1993, p. 3). Despite the dispute between Sargent and Tomlinson, the portrait was included in the 1904 Society of American Artists' exhibition in New York alongside the artist's important triple portrait The Misses Hunter (1900-02, Tate Gallery, London). The request to have the present work exhibited shortly after its completion was possibly at the insistence of the Tomlinsons. Such exhibitions were equally a tribute to the ambitions of the patrons to have their portraits seen in prominent public spaces to elevate themselves socially as they were to the talents of the artists. The sitter and her husband were active in high society and were cognizant that a portrait from the brush of a leading artist of the day with an exhibition to follow could only benefit their rise in stature in society.

    Mrs. John C. Tomlinson is rendered gracefully with the quintessential hallmarks of Sargent's best portraiture, when he was working at the height of his popularity and abilities. These include soft, delicate facial features, varied, rich tonal qualities and visible, spontaneous brushstrokes. The jewel-toned drape and deeply hued gown stand in dramatic contrast with the glowing, porcelain skin of the sitter. Mrs. John C. Tomlinson is an engaging achievement in portraiture for its fresh painterly qualities and stands in Sargent's oeuvre as a superb example of the artist imbuing his subjects with elegant grandeur.
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) Mrs. John C. Tomlinson 58 1/8 x 37 7/8in (147.6 x 96.2cm) (Painted circa 1904.)
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