Sargent’s portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife, by John Singer Sargent, 1885
Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife, by John Singer Sargent, 1885

John Singer Sargent has a knack for showing character in his portraits. I recently read something about teaching history to young children through character studies of important historical figures (as opposed to dates and events). In the spirit of that idea, wouldn’t it be great to also know the character of the authors of great literature? In our first 12 weeks of school, we read a poem a day from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. Recently, I read an abridged version of Treasure Island to my son. (Yes, abridged. It was a Christmas gift.) So here’s a portrait of the author and his wife. What does this portrait say about his character? I honestly don’t know much about Stevenson, so my following conclusions are based on the portrait and my experience reading his books. Stevenson looks like an active man, nervous, a floor-walker. He likes darkness. He probably has an overactive imagination that keeps him awake at nights. So he probably gets up and writes. His wife is perhaps his opposite. Based on his Garden of Verses, I’d say his childhood memories are vivid and important to him. I like the guy. Even though he might seem a little creepy and strange at first, I can see myself warming up to him if I were his neighbor or something.

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