"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Helen Dunham

This c. 1895 charcoal portrait of Helen Dunham (1868-1937) by John Singer Sargent belonging to a private collection was on display as part of a National Portrait Gallery exhibit of John Singer Sargent drawings. 
Like her five remarkable sisters, Helen Dunham was noted for her cultural and intellectual sophistication. Although based in New York, her family spent considerable time in England, where Dunham formed a close connection with Sargent through their shared love of music and theater. The artist frequently mentioned “Miss Dunham” in his letters, and it is probable that Helen Dunham was the sister he invited to see the Spanish dancer Carmencita in 1892. The following year, they attended a play featuring the Italian actress Eleonora Duse.
Sargent painted Dunham's portrait in 1892 and probably made this striking drawing a few years later. It is one of his earliest portraits in charcoal and seems to reflect his affection for her. The rich, velvety black background boldly sets off Dunham's profile, which the artist carefully outlined. The shimmering highlights in her hair were likely made through erasure, perhaps using pellets of bread, as was Sargent's custom. -- NPS
John S. Sargent


The 1892 oil portrait by Sargent is also in private hands. This image is from Wikiart.

A cursory Google search shows that Helen Dunham is most famous for being painted by John Singer Sargent.

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