John Singer Sargent's Muse Gets the Spotlight in 'Boston's Apollo' Exhibition

  • March 09, 2020 20:26

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(DETAIL) John Singer Sargent’s “Thomas McKeller” (1917-21)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Sargent's "Apollo in His Chariot with the Hours" circa 1922–1925.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In 1916, John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) met Thomas Eugene McKeller (1890–1962), a young Black elevator attendant, at Boston’s Hotel Vendome. McKeller posed for most of the figures—both male and female—in Sargent’s murals in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The painter transformed McKeller into white gods and goddesses, creating soaring allegories of the liberal arts that celebrated the recent expansion of the city’s premier civic museum. 

Sargent then gave the preparatory drawings of McKeller to arts patron Isabella Stewart Gardner, ensuring their preservation in perpetuity. Displayed together for the first time, the drawings provide a window into the metamorphoses of race, gender, and identity, and attest to a relationship between two men, artist and model, at a time of intense social upheaval.

Boston's Apollo, a current exhibition (through May 17, 2020) at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, brings together Sargent's drawings and related historical materials to tell the story of McKeller’s life. His central importance in Sargent’s major artistic commissions in the Boston area considers critical questions of race, class, and sexuality—as relevant today as they were in Gilded Age Boston.

Read more at New York Times

Tags: american art

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