John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892
Oil on canvas
49 1/2 x 39 1/2 in.
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
This portrait of the renowned society beauty Lady Agnew (née Gertrude Vernon) was commissioned by her husband, Sir Andrew Noel Agnew, a Scottish barrister. Through her direct, frontal gaze and the informality of her pose, the subject forges a compelling connection with the viewer. The colorful, patterned upholstery of the eighteenth-century French armchair and silk Chinese wall hanging harmonize with her elegant white gown trimmed in lilac. Sargent’s fluid brushwork conveys a sense of opulence and ease. The artist completed the work in six sessions, later saying that he sometimes obtained his best results with only a few sittings. The outpouring of praise the work received when exhibited at London’s Royal Academy in 1893 launched Lady Agnew as a society hostess and the painter’s reputation as the most fashionable portraitist on both sides of the Atlantic.