When Sargent Painted His Friends

February 13, 2015 1:02 AM

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When Sargent Painted His Friends

In 1885, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of “Treasure Island” and “Kidnapped,” wrote to a friend about the portrait of himself that John Singer Sargent had recently painted. The author dubbed the picture, which included Stevenson’s wife dressed as an Indian princess, as “too eccentric to be exhibited” and “dam [sic] queer as a whole.”

But when Stevenson teased that he looked like “a weird, very pretty, large-eyed, chicken-boned, slightly contorted poet,” he meant it as a compliment to Sargent, who earned money and fame as a painter of society beauties, immortalizing them as flaw-free models. Painting people honestly was a rare tr...

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