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.
Balanced on the centaur Chiron, the young Achilles draws back his bow to fire an arrow. Half man, half horse, Chiron—the adopted son of Apollo—mentored Greek hero Achilles in the arts of war and peace. Here, Sargent focuses on the twisting backs of each torso, eventually abandoning this approach for a frontal arrangement.