Coming Soon

Boston's Apollo

February 13 - May 17, 2020
Hostetter Gallery

In 1916, John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) met Thomas Eugene McKeller (1890–1962), a young African-American 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. 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. 

The preliminary drawings Sargent gave to Isabella Stewart Gardner provide a window into these metamorphoses of race, gender, and identity. Sargent’s visually arresting and emotionally powerful studies of McKeller attest to a collaboration between two men, black and white, artist and model, at a time of intense social upheaval in Boston. The drawings—shown together for the first time—and related material help us form a picture of McKeller’s life and central importance in Sargent’s major artistic commissions, while raising critical questions of race, sexuality, and class—as relevant today as they were in Gilded Age Boston.

An inclusive interpretation strategy and several community roundtable discussions for this exhibition have yielded multiple perspectives from local artists, scholars, community thought leaders, and Thomas McKeller’s descendants, whose responses form a powerful presence through wall texts, audio, an in-gallery video, and a rich program of public talks and performances. We invite you to experience this multifaceted exhibition that brings together our own voices with those of the past.

Photo at top: John Singer Sargent (American, 1856 - 1925), Study for Chiron and Achilles for the Rotunda or Grand Staircase of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1917-1922 (detail). Charcoal on paper, 47.2 x 63.2 cm (18 9/16 x 24 7/8 in.) Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (S.G.Sar.4.1.8)

The lead sponsors of Boston's Apollo: Thomas McKeller and John Singer Sargent and exhibition-related programming are Amy and David Abrams, Bank of America, and the Henry Luce Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation, Chauncey & Marion D. McCormick Family Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. The Museum receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which receives support from the State of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Media sponsor: The Boston Globe