"The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" 1882, by John Singer Sargent
Depending on what blurbs you read about this painting, you might be led to think that the Boit family was disfunctional and the daughters were crazy. What family anymore isn’t just a little of both anyway?
Mary Louisa Boit
The Boits were a very wealthy family who lived a privileged life on both sides of the Atlantic. In their time most people of their social stature were expected to fit into their propper “place” in society. Women were expected to marry a guy on par with their own social and financial level, then procreate and care for their family, all the while doing what other women did in those days.
But the Boit women never married (to the chagrin of their mother) and, as strange as it may have seemed at the time, never were at all interested in landing a husband. Each lived an atypical, spinster life which was altered forever when the first world war broke out. Each became, what undoubtedly extended family members called, “old maids”.
Jane did have a mental problem as well. Sadly her shrieking fits made life tough for all involved, and she was sent to live away from the family from time-to-time. All the girls lived off the family inheritance, each was musically inclined to an extent, and unfortunately none ever commented in-depth as an adult about the time when, as young girls, they had their portraits painted by one of the greatest painters in history.
To me all of this is a bit interesting in itself, but it really seems to ad to the mystique of Sargent’s painting - a masterpiece which now becomes a snapshot of these four innocent lives from a very different era than our own, but perhaps a jaded snapshot, knowing what little we do, and do not know, of their lives.
If you love this painting, then read the book I mentioned in the past couple posts - "Sargent's Daughters, the biography of a painting" by Erica Hirshler.
You may also enjoy hearing the author herself talk about Sargent’s work by clicking here.