FORT WORTH, TX.- The Amon Carter Museum of American Art
announces today the acquisition of a major, full-length painting by John Singer Sargent (18561925). The work, titled Edwin Booth from 1890, is a portrait of the great 19th-century Shakespearean actor, Edwin Booth (18331893). It was commissioned by members of The Players in New York City, a private club for actors founded by Booth and his friends in 1888, and remained there until 2002, when debt forced the club to sell it to a private collector. Now owned by the Amon Carter, Edwin Booth is on view in the museums main gallery.
Sargent is one of the most important American artists and we are thrilled to add another one of his masterpieces to our collection, says Andrew J. Walker, director of the Amon Carter. We were particularly intrigued by this painting as it is among his most brilliantly conceived full-length male portraits.
At first glance, Sargents Booth appears so alive that we can easily envision him delivering a soliloquy from Hamlet, one of his signature roles, Walker continues. Upon further study, we discover that the painting is a carefully nuanced work of art, one of quiet emotion.
Sargent created a masterful, immortal image of the revered actorthe 19th centurys greatest American tragedian and older brother of John Wilkes Boothwhile also giving us a glimpse of Booths personality, according to Margi Conrads, deputy director of art and research.
In this painting, Sargent channels his knowledge of European old master artists, especially Diego Velázquez, but the conception is entirely his own, says Conrads. Sargents Booth is both heroic and informal, alternating between public persona and private individual. The artist executed just what his patrons requested, a picture for posterity to be admired by present and future generations.
The artist presents Booth in front of the grand fireplace in the clubs hallway, a place where Booth frequently stood giving toasts. (Booth, however, posed for the portrait in the artists studio a few blocks away.) Sargent painted the 5′7″ actor life size, although he thinned the figures hips and legs to adjust for the paintings original viewing height above the mantle in the clubs reading room. Booth appears simultaneously imposing and informallarger than life, but equally gracious and meditative. Dressed in a dark, three-piece suit, not a stage costume, his attitude is relaxed, but his stance expresses latent energy and nervous tension.
In Edwin Booth, we find the keys to Sargents great success, according to painting and sculpture curator Rebecca Lawton.
Sargents brilliant finessing of color and brushstroke pervades the painting, Lawton says. He echoes the duality of Booths character in the juxtaposition of the hot brick fireplace and the cool marble surrounding it. The dazzling strokes of salmon in the fires embers and the daring streak of blue on Booths shirt contrast beautifully against the careful modeling of his face and hands.
Edwin Booth joins another masterful Sargent in the museums collection, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard (1888), which was acquired in 1999.
Given the elegance and panache of his female subjects, Sargents talent for male portraiture is frequently underestimated, says Conrads. Its our hope that by having this painting available to a broader audience, we can help extend the appreciation of Sargents great talent.
As the first life-size portrait to enter the collection, the painting offers a broader context for the social and cultural fabric of the Gilded Age.
Booth acted on stages throughout the United States, bringing Shakespeare to countless people, says Walker. Many of the works in our painting collection focus on how the country was shaped from a landscape perspective. This painting complements that story nicely, featuring a person who greatly influenced the nations cultural heritage.