February 6, 2014

Sargent’s Daughters

A joint biography of the four daughters of Edward Darley Boit, and of John Singer Sargent’s wonderful painting.

Sargent’s Daughters

Boit was a wealthy American painter — his wife was a Cushing. Like Sargent, the Boits moved freely between London, Paris, Rome; the girls learned lots of languages. None of them married, and we know surprisingly little about them.

But they were interesting people. Florie, the eldest girl, the one who is not looking at us, was probably responsible for introducing golf to the US. She had a Boston marriage, played the violin, suffered some sort of psychiatric episode during the war years, and died in 1919, probably of influenza.

Janie, who stands next to her, went mad: she was already difficult in 1882 when the picture was made and became much more difficult in the coming years. Just what the difficulty was, unfortunately, seems to be unknown: in surviving letters and records, everyone is worried, annoyed, anxious, and upset, but nobody really explains. She played the piano compulsively, was in and out of institutions, and in the end lived in a Paris apartment with two attendants, at enormous expense.

Issa, the girl in red, seems to have left little trace 0r memory.

Little Julia took up watercolors, settled in Newport, and died in the 1960s a cheerful and well-loved old lady, a local character.