• BOSTON, Massachusetts
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  • March 09, 2010

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John Singer Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

An historic meeting among some of the art world’s most enigmatic young ladies will take place at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, where John Singer Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1882) and Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (Museo Nacional del Prado, 1656) will be shown together for the first time. On view March 16 through May 30 as part of the Prado’s series “The Invited Work,” Sargent’s painting—one of the greatest treasures at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA)—will be displayed near the Prado’s iconic masterpiece by Velázquez to illustrate how Las Meninas inspired The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.

“This is a rare opportunity for two of the world’s most beloved masterpieces—from the MFA, Boston, and the Prado—to be seen together,” said Rogers. “Sargent drew great inspiration from Velázquez’s compelling portrait, making frequent visits to the Prado. We are delighted that The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit can follow in his footsteps to Madrid.”

Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA, and Erica Hirshler, the MFA’s Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings, will attend a press conference at the Prado on Monday, March 15, with Prado Director Miguel Zugaza in celebration of the occasion. (Hirshler is the author of the recently published Sargent’s Daughters: The Biography of a Painting, MFA Publications, 2009).

In 1879, Sargent traveled to the Prado, where he studied numerous works by Velázquez, including Las Meninas, making a copy of the painting to help him analyze its composition, lighting, and the dynamics among the figures. Both paintings are centered on little girls who seem to know more than they are saying—five-year-old Infanta Margarita Teresa of Spain depicted by Velázquez, and four-year-old Julia Boit captured by Sargent. Surrounding the Infanta are her ladies-in-waiting (“las meninas”) and other attendants, while around little Julia are her sisters, Mary Louisa (“Isa”), Florence, and Jane. In each work, the sitters seem to have a complicated relationship with one another, and also appear to be reacting to the sudden presence of onlookers in the room. Evoking Velázquez’s positioning of the little princess in a cavernous palace room, Sargent placed the Bostonian Boit girls at the front of a large, dark interior space—the foyer of their Paris apartment. He also painted, with dazzling effect, the white-on-white of their playtime pinafores, reminiscent of the white gowns worn by the Infanta and her ladies.

One of the greatest portraitists of his day, Sargent painted The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit for his friend and fellow artist, Edward Darley Boit, and his vivacious wife Mary Louisa Cushing Boit, expatriate Bostonians living abroad in Paris. Sargent’s depiction of the Boit daughters captured the attention of critics and admirers alike, who were drawn to the enigmatic and mysterious portrait that Sargent had created. (Seen as isolated figures in the painting, the girls were nonetheless close all their lives; while none of them married, and one suffered from periods of mental instability, the others shared a love of music, art, and sport). Four years after Edward Darley Boit’s death in 1915, his daughters gave the painting to the MFA; the Boit family later donated to the Museum the two monumental Japanese ceramic vases that appear as sentinels in Sargent’s painting.

Since its acquisition by the MFA in 1919, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit has rarely traveled. The loan to the Prado represents the first time that Sargent’s iconic work will be seen in Madrid. (The only previous loans abroad have been to London and Nagoya, Japan.) Upon its return to Boston, the painting will be installed as the centerpiece of the Sargent Gallery in the Museum’s new Art of the Americas Wing, to debut in November.

To add to the appreciation of “The Invited Work” at the Prado, Erica Hirshler will present a lecture, “Sargent’s Daughters” (“Las hijas de Edward Darley Boit, de Sargent. Biografía de una pintura”) on March 17 at 7 p.m. in the Edificio Jerónimos at the Museo Nacional del Prado.

For more information, please contact Dawn Griffin ( or 617.275.9529) or Kelly Gifford ( or 781.413.5027).

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is recognized for the quality and scope of its encyclopedic collection, which includes an estimated 450,000 objects. The MFA is nearing completion of its transformational building expansion and renovation, designed by architects Foster + Partners (London), which will enrich the ways visitors encounter the Museum’s great works of art; increase space for its encyclopedic collection, special exhibitions, and educational programs; as well as improve navigation throughout the building. The expansion features a new wing for the Art of the Americas collections and, adjacent to it, a glass-enclosed courtyard, which will open in November 2010. For general visitor information, visit the MFA website at or call 617.267.9300.


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