Case Study
           
           

John Singer Sargent's

"Portrait of General Lucius Fairchild"
           



Before Treatment
           
           
           

Provenance
           

Commission
September, 1887
           
Lucius Fairchild was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1886. He worked almost non-stop to visit all of the GAR posts in the Midwest and Eastern states.(9) The membership of the organization increased by over 30,000 during his tenure. In September of 1887, at the 21st National Encampment in St. Louis, he was honored by its members who voted to have his portrait painted by John Singer Sargent. The choice of Sargent was obvious for he was a close friend of Lucius' younger brother, Charles. The portrait was actually painted in Charles' Boston home and not in Sargent's studio.(10)
           
           

Fairchild Letters
December, 1887
           
Fairchild documented the ongoing work on the painting in a series of letters to his wife.(11) The following records some of his observations.
           
  December 2, 1887--"Mr. Sargent has been here all morning but certain windows had to be changed so that a proper light can be shed on the manly form and aimable (sic.) face of your husband so that the real work begins tomorrow Sunday as it will be--He tells me that he will want some ten days--so I am elected to be gone from you longer than we expected."
 
  December 6, 1887--"A long sitting yesterday and the portrait grows."
           
  December 9, 1887--"The portrait is going on--probably three more sittings will finish it--The badges are all on the manly breast."
           
  December 11, 1887--"It rains today--dark and bad for the portrait. Two or three more sittings in fair weather will do the business. A queer looking old stick is your husband in oil."
           
  December 14, 1887--"...the portrait is...a splendid work of art."
           
           

St. Botolph Club Exhibition, Boston
January, 1888
           
The St. Botolph Club was founded in 1880 as a men's club in Boston.(12) It is still in existence today. Its founding members were individuals within the arts and letters from the prominent Boston elite including John Quincy Adams, Henry Cabot Lodge, Henry Houghton and George Mifflin. Each year the Club held an art exhibit. At the inaugural exhibit, Sargent had previously exhibited his "Portrait of Carolus-Duran." In January of 1888, he was honored with his first one-man show.
           



"El Jaleo" 1882
The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum
Boston, Massachusetts

 

"The Daughters of Edward D. Boit" 1882
The Museum of Fine Arts
Boston, Massachusetts
           


"Portrait of Lady Playfair" 1884
Museum of Fine Arts
Boston, Massachusetts


"Mrs. Henry Marquand" 1887
The Art Museum, Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
           
The above and below paintings represent eight of the twenty oils that were exhibited. The show was a phenomenal success and clearly solidified his reputation as one of the great portrait artists of his time. Sargent drew upon his finest works for the exhibit. His "Portrait of General Lucius Fairchild" accompanied what are considered today some of his greatest works.
           


"Portrait of Mrs. Edward Boit" 1887
Museum of Fine Arts
Boston, Massachusetts


"Portrait of Mrs. Charles Inches" 1887
Museum of Fine Arts
Boston, Massachusetts
           


"General Lucius Fairchild" 1887
The State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin


"Portrait of Isabella Stuart Gardner" 1888
The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum
Boston, Massachusetts
           
           

Frame Inscription
September, 1888
           
The completed portrait was presented to Fairchild at the 22nd National Encampment of the GAR in Columbus, Ohio on September 12, 1888. The painting's original frame still carries the commemorative plate.
           

 

Presented to
Comrade Lucius Fairchild,
Past Commander-in-Chief,
by the
Grand Army of the Republic,
at the
22nd Annual Session
of the
National Encampment,
as a
Token of Esteem and Regard.
September 12th, 1888
           
           

Fairchild Estate Bequest
October, 1925
           
The painting remained in the Fairchild estate for thirty-seven years. With the death of Mrs. Fairchild in 1925 a large bequest was made to the State Historical Society to include, "...the fine full-length portrait of General Lucius Fairchild by the famous American portrait painter John S. Sargent, the General's remarkable collection of seventy-five old Spanish and other European barber bowls, a fine old Spanish-Moorish cabinet, a collection of old Spanish and Moorish pottery, and many fine mementos of the General and Mrs. Fairchild--among them the flag carried by the General's regiment, the Second Wisconsin Infantry, in the battles of Shiloh and Gettysburg"(13)
           
           

Sargent Memorial Exhibit
November, 1925
           
John Singer Sargent also died in 1925. To honor their "favorite son" the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston held a retrospective exhibit entitled, "The Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the Late John Singer Sargent opened on the Occasion of the Unveiling of Mr. Sargent's Mural Decorations Over the Main Stair Case and the Library of the Museum. Exhibition from November 3 to December 27, 1925." In the catalog, the "Portrait of General Lucius Fairchild" is listed as Number 31.(14) It is improperly dated as "Before 1888." The correct "1887" date may have been obscured under the darkened varnish. Pictured below, the museum's original exhibition label is still affixed to the verso of the present stretcher. The "549" refers to the number of the loan while the "25" refers to 1925.
           



Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Exhibition Label
           
Since 1925 the portrait has remained in the collection of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and has not been shown in any subsequent American or European exhibit.
           
           
         
Footnotes        
(9) Ross. Ibid. p. 204.
(10) Ormond. Ibid. p. 204.
(11) Ormond. Ibid. p. 204. Original material is held at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Box 48, WIS/MSS/GC as noted by Ormond.
(12) Material on St. Botolph Club drawn from Ormond, Ibid. pp. xvi and 195 and the JSSGallery.com web site.
(13) Publication of the Sate Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1925. Proceedings of the Society at its Seventy-Third Annual Meeting,. p. 38. Mr. Scott Roller, Registrar for the Society, informed the author that the bequest came to the museum on October 1, 1925.
(14) Publication of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 1925. The Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the Late John Singer Sargent opened on the Occasion of the Unveiling of Mr. Sargent's Mural Decorations Over the Main Stair Case and the Library of the Museum. Exhibition from November 3 to December 27, 1925. p. 5.
           
           

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Barry Bauman Conservation
Contact: Mr. Barry Bauman
1122 N. Jackson Ave., River Forest, IL. 60305
Ph.(708)771-0382  Fax.(708)771-1532
e-mail:barrybbc7@yahoo.com