John Singer Sargent - Study of a Seated Male Nude, 1916-1921

John Singer Sargent (Florence, 1856 - 1925, London)

Study of a Seated Male Nude for the Rotunda or Grand Staircase of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1916-1921

Charcoal on paper, 63.3 x 47.8 cm (24 15/16 x 18 13/16 in.) sheet

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Object details

Accession number

S.G.Sar.4.1.3

Provenance

Probably a gift from John Singer Sargent to Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1921.

Marks

Signed in pencil (lower right): John S. Sargent
Watermark: L. BERVILLE (FRANCE) / Lalanne

Bibliography

Rollin van N. Hadley (ed.). Drawings: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1968), p. 52.
Alan Chong et al. (eds.). Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), p. 223.
Nathaniel Silver et al. Boston’s Apollo: Thomas McKeller and John Singer Sargent. Exh. cat (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2020), pp. 66-67, 182-83, fig. 33, cat. 3.


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Commentary

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. 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 several preparatory drawings of McKeller to Isabella Stewart Gardner, ensuring their preservation in perpetuity.

Poised on a cushion with arms raised, Thomas McKeller poses for pairs of nude figures modeled in plaster relief above the rotunda’s four roundels. These sculpted images have no individual identities but collectively celebrate the figurative arts and the bodies they depend on.

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