John Singer Sargent. The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. 1882.
One of Sargent’s most famous works, the composition of this “portrait” is exceptionally odd. The girls (daughters of an expatriate American Painter and a wealthy socialite) are placed at distant intervals and do not interact with one another, and they become increasing blurred, with the oldest daughter’s face almost completely obscured. Many believe this is not so much a portrait as a metaphor for the ambiguities of adolescence, in which the girls represent successive phases of childhood, retreating into alienation and a loss of innocence as they grow older.
The painting is even more mysterious when one considers how it mirrors the later lives and dispositions of the daughters: Mary Louisa, Flourennce, Jane, and Julia (left to right). None of the girls ever married, and both Flourennce and Jane, the two rear daughters, became to some extent mentally or emotionally disturbed. Mary Louisa and Julia, the front two girls, remained close as they grew older, and Julia, the youngest, became an accomplished painter in water-colors.