Four Lives Behind the Canvas
Winner of the 2018 Art in Literature: The Mary Lyn Kotz Award
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice Selection
“Sargent’s Women has a distinct elegance and potency—Lucey’s writing propels you forward, straight to the heart of the story, along the vibrant ties that linked this fascinating artist to the women he made infamous.”
—Christine Barberich, global editor-in-chief and cofounder of Refinery29
“Powerful and probing […] the truth behind the paintings is far more stunning and fascinating than I had ever imagined.”
—Candice Millard, best-selling author of Hero of the Empire
“Filled with vivid scenes worthy of a novel by Henry James, yet grounded in comprehensive new research, Donna Lucey’s Sargent’s Women is a delicious elucidation of character, class, and a culture.”
—Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller
"Lucey’s superlative group portrait, rendered in crystal-clear prose, is spring-fed by her immersion in vast archives of letters and diaries, her pilgrimages to the extraordinary places that shaped her subjects’ lives, and her keen insights into what drove these women to break out of their gilded cages."
—Booklist, starred review
“This skillfully written work with a unique creative perspective will attract readers interested in art and history and will be a lasting addition to academic and arts collections."
—Library Journal, starred review
“Lucey ably pulls these four compelling women out of obscurity with insight and infectious enthusiasm.”
The fascinating backstories of four women painted by John Singer Sargent come alive in this seductive, multilayered biography.
With unprecedented access to newly discovered sources, Donna M. Lucey illuminates the lives of four extraordinary women painted by the iconic high-society portraitist John Singer Sargent. With uncanny clairvoyance, Sargent’s portraits hint at the mysteries, passions, and tragedies that unfolded in his subjects’ lives. Sequestered in a fantasy-land castle in the remote Rocky Mountains, Elsie Palmer carried on a labyrinthine love life; Elizabeth Chanler stepped into a maze of infidelity with her best friend’s husband; as the veiled image of Sally Fairchild—beautiful, commanding, and poison-tongued— emerged on Sargent’s canvas, the power of his artistry lured her sister Lucia into an ill-fated life in art; shrewd, iron-willed Isabella Stewart Gardner collected both art and young men. Born to unimaginable wealth, these women lived on an operatic scale, and their letters and diaries create a rich depiction of the Gilded Age and the acclaimed but secretive painter whose canvases defined the era.