The Sargent House Museum Among Six Institutions to Acquire Works by Emily Sargent

May 10, 2022 / Art and Music, Good to Know, Local Characters, Things to Do & See

Permission to post | Written and published by the Sargent House Museum |May 2022

Little-known sister of painter John Singer Sargent was a life-long watercolorist.

The Sargent House Museum is pleased to announce the acquisition of 15 watercolor paintings by Emily Sargent, a late 19th-early 20th century American artist and sister of famed portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

Gloucester’s Sargent House Museum is one of six institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at Oxford University, to receive the artworks in a distribution by the London-based Sargent family.

A descendant of the Gloucester Sargent family, Emily Sargent was born to American parents in Rome in 1857. She painted throughout her life but rarely exhibited. Much of her output was presumed lost after her death in 1936, but a cache of some 440 works was found in the attic of a Sargent family home in England in 1998. The works remained in family hands until the current distribution.

Emily Sargent’s birth in 1857 followed by just about a century the birth in 1751 of Judith Sargent, the original resident of the Sargent House that stands above Main Street in Gloucester. Despite the passing of a hundred years and more, the lives of these two women were uncannily parallel:

“At the Generalife,” a 1912 watercolor by John Singer Sargent, shows Emily Sargent painting at the Alhambra in Spain.

–Both Sargent women had brothers who became prominent. Emily’s brother John dominated portrait painting in England and America during the late 19th century. Judith’s brother Winthrop earned a prominent position as an aide de camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Winthrop subsequently became governor of the Mississippi territory.

–Both women showed early ability in their chosen art form. Emily painted from early childhood, recording many of her family’s travels in Europe. Judith earned praise from her family for poetry she wrote as a young child.

–Though clearly talented, neither woman received the education their brothers received. Emily’s brother John was sent to Paris to study art in the studio of a highly regarded painter, and Judith’s brother Winthrop was sent to Cambridge, Mass., to attend Harvard. Both women remained at home.

–The bulk of both women’s art disappeared after their deaths and resurfaced only many years later. Emily died in 1936 and a trunk filled with her paintings was discovered more than 60 years later. A similar cache of Judith’s letters was discovered in a house in Mississippi approximately 160 years after her death. Without these chance discoveries, little would have been known of either woman.

The Sargent House Museum today promotes the progress of women, celebrating the work of Judith Sargent embodied in her 1790 essay, “On the Equality of the Sexes,” a seminal work in the history of women’s rights in America.

Plans are now under way at the Sargent House Museum for an exhibit of Emily Sargent’s watercolors to welcome this long-unknown artist as her work finds a new and congenial home in Gloucester.

Visit the Sargent House Museum website for news of the show.