This is one of my favourite portraits of this era by the one and only John Singer Sargent, an American who crossed of to England and became a highly respected and sought after portrait painter, so much so he became known as the “leading portrait painter of his generation” for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury.
This particular portrait is of 17 year old Miss Elsie Palmer, the portrait is captivating to the point of disturbing with the stern gaze of the sitter and the contrast between the dress and the background make it look like she is swallowed up, much like the viewer.
It was rumoured that Elsie and Singer Sargent had an affair, but this seems unlikely, it was even rumoured Sargent was also homosexual so who really knows. But Elsie has her own interesting legacy; daughter of a wealthy American from Colorado who moved to England she married the British novelist Leo Myers who was on the edge of becoming a member of the Bloomsbury Group and a good friend of George Orwell whom he helped travel to Marocco to cure his tuberculosis. He was wealthy from an early age and lived a decadent life, having children with many of his friends and ultimately committing suicide in 1944, Elsie died 11 years later at 66 years old.