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Object Details

Maker
Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755-1828)
Date
ca. 1799-1805
Geography
Unknown
Culture
North American
Medium
oil on canvas
Dimensions
Overall: 33 1/2 in x 27 in; 85.09 cm x 68.58 cm
Provenance
Governor and Mrs. Winthrop Sargent, of Natchez, Mississippi; to Mrs. Winthrop Sargent, until 1844; to her son by her first marriage, James Williams; to his widow, who gave it about 1855 to Governor Sargent's grandson, George Sargent, until 1893; to his sister, Jane Percy Sargent, wife of William Butler Duncan, of New York until 1905, when it was reunited with its pendant painting of Governor Sargent; their histories are thenceforward identical
Inscriptions
None
Credit Line
Funds donated by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1973.0056

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Object Essay

Confident, benign, serene, Mrs. Winthrop Sargent (1764–844) is one of Stuart’s most appealing female subjects. She is beautifully painted. Even the flattening of the paint surface through relining cannot disguise the mastery of Stuart’s technique. The double ruche neckline of her white Empire gown is improvised with a brio that no other American artist then commanded. The transparency of the white gossamer veil is the poetic gloss to the intelligent face. These high values are set off by a harmony of reds—a dark red curtain, a muted red armchair, and an especially lovely salmon-colored shawl (probably painted in English red mixed with white, it has turned browner with age).      

The charm and self-possession of Mrs. Sargent mark the character of a mature and urbane woman. Mary Sargent’s first husband, David Williams (d. 1796), had received a large Spanish land grant. Many citizens of the frontier had accepted such grants when there was no certainty of statehood in the fledgling Union—and not always any wish for it. It gave them access to the port of New Orleans for their prosperous trade down the Mississippi.       

Shortly after the death her second husband, Governor Winthrop Sargent, Mary Sargent apparently moved north to Philadelphia, taking the portraits with her. The esteem in which Winthrop Sargent held these likenesses is strikingly evident from his will:      

The Portraits of myself and Wife by Stewart & amongst the best paintings of that most excellent Artist I wish ever to remain with my Name & Family & that my Wife at her Death provide to such purpose by ordering them in safe keeping, till my Sons or either of them shall be of Lawful age and Discretion, And housekeepers & full sufficiency in all Respects for duly estimating and preserving them—the elderest should have a Preference if they both be equally worthy, but if there should be a worthiest unto him I bequeathe them.1For an early provenance, see Park 2: 665.   

Despite the Governors wish, Sargent’s widow left her portrait to her son by her first marriage, and that of her husband went to their younger son.2Allis, Reel 7, October 1, 1818. Sargent’s orthography has been retained. They remained separated for nearly half a century.

William Kloss

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.