Grace Elvina, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston
oil on canvas
50 7/8 in. x 36 3/8 in. (129.22 cm x 92.39 cm)
John S. Sargent
(For biographical information on John Singer Sargent, see entry under Sargent, Untitled Study of a Male Nude and Arm, 1939.7.3
John Singer Sargent's last completed painting, and one of the few portraits he consented to paint in the final decade or so of his career, was Grace Elvina, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston
. Lady Curzon sat for him in January 1925, three months before the artist's death, during a period when his principal-in fact, almost his entire-artistic effort was dedicated to the murals decorating the rotunda and stairwell of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Although he was repeatedly offered portrait commissions (many of them potentially lucrative and from celebrated personages), he refused almost all of them. He declined to paint Lady Curzon when he was first approached by her husband, who had sat for him in 1914. He relented, according to family tradition, after meeting her at a private dinner party arranged by their mutual friend (and Sargent's eventual biographer) Evan Charteris. Sargent's only condition in agreeing to the commission was that Curzon, who had been extremely critical of other portraits of his wife, be barred from seeing the portrait until it was finished. Sargent's effort was quite successful, apparently moving Curzon to tears: "But it is ideal," Lady Curzon remembers him saying, "I could not wish for anything better."
Lady Curzon (1879-1958), who was about forty-five when Sargent painted her, was born Grace Elvina Hinds, daughter of Lucy Triglia and Joseph Monroe Hinds, a career diplomat. During Hinds's term as United States Minister to Argentina, Grace met and married Alfred Duggan, a wealthy Anglo-Argentine with vast landholdings in South America. After Duggan's death in 1915, she moved to London with her three children. Shortly thereafter, she met Lord Curzon, a brilliant politician who in the course of his career would serve as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Viceroy of India, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and leader of the House of Lords, as well as president of the Royal Geographical Society. They married in 1917. The marriage was not a success, however, and at Lady Curzon's request, the couple lived apart for much of the period before Lord Curzon's death in 1925.
Sargent painted Lady Curzon in his Tite Street studio. She wears an elegant gown of silvery-white silk, with a transparent stole draped loosely around her. A triple rope of pearls and drop earrings continue the pale tonalities of her attire, to which the purple sash and star of the Grand Cross of the British Empire provides a dynamic contrast. She is seated on a small settee upholstered in a delicate patterned fabric, the gilt arms and pastel tones of which underscore the opulence and femininity of many of Sargent's famous portraits of the Edwardian age. But unlike portraits such as Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children
(1896, private collection), here Sargent does not rely on dramatic foreshortening or swooping perspective to animate the composition; rather he chooses a more subtle arrangement. Lady Curzon perches at the edge of the sofa, which has been turned away from the picture plane; she then twists back slightly to address the viewer. Sargent experimented with this pose in several sketches for the portrait (1925, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence). In one of these, Lady Curzon's head is thrown back, her arms akimbo, in an attitude that is both flamboyant and haughty. The final pose is more restrained, yet more expressive. While not minimizing his sitter's elegance and luxurious beauty, Sargent focuses on Lady Curzon's face and hands. As she fingers her pearls, her lips pressed tight and her eyes opened wide, Lady Curzon reveals an eloquent tension and lingering sadness.
Donelson F. Hoopes. "Sargent's Portrait of the Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston." The Currier Gallery of Art Bulletin
, April-June 1970, pp. 11-21.
1925 Royal Academy of Arts, London, England, "The Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts 1925, The One Hundred and Fifty-Seventh." May 4 - Aug. 8.
1956 Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, Providence, RI, "19th Century French Pictures Exhibition." Sept. 9 - Oct. 3.
1972 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Buried Treasure." Jan. 15 - Feb. 20.
1974 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "American Art Since 1914." June 15 - Sept. 8.
1977 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Out for an Airing." June 18 - Sept. 11.
1986 Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Gallery of Art." Sept. 11 - Nov. 2.
1995-1997 "American Art from the Currier Gallery of Art." Organized by the Currier Gallery of Art and the American Federation of Arts. Traveled to: Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando, FL, Dec. 3, 1995 - Jan. 28, 1996; Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, FL, Mar. 15 - Apr. 7, 1996; Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke, VA, Aug. 10 - Oct. 13, 1996; The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN, Feb. 2 - Mar. 30, 1997; Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA, Apr. 25 - June 22, 1997; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, July 18 - Sept. 8, 1997, cat. no. 29.
2019 Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH, "The Figure Transformed" April 2019 - Jan. 2020
Commissioned by Marquis of Curzon
Howard Young Galleries, New York, NY
Purchased by Currier Gallery of Art, 1936