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 a Cartouche for the Rotunda of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1916-1921

Charcoal on paper, 63.3 x 48 cm (24 15/16 x 18 7/8 in.) sheet


Object details

Accession number



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


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


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), pp. 222-23, ill. (as Study for Phaeton, about 1922)
Nathaniel Silver et al. Boston’s Apollo: Thomas McKeller and John Singer Sargent. Exh. cat (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2020), pp. 186-87, cat. 5.

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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.

With quick and confident charcoal marks, Sargent captures McKeller’s face in profile and traces the contours of his muscular arms. Like the others in this series, McKeller’s pose does not correspond to a single painted or sculpted figure in the rotunda. Below, Sargent sketches the contours of the rotunda and one of its cartouche frames in profile.