The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882
John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882

Strange and lovely. Look at the size of those vases. Now try to decide where your eyes go first. Mine go to the girl on the left. Yes, my eyes keep traveling the circuit of daughters, but the circuit occupies such an odd amount of the canvas. The giant rust-orange paper airplane on the right (I suppose it’s a screen) does its job of balancing out the colors and also the color temperature, but isn’t it strange that the warmest thing in the painting is a weird abstract shape? The girls are cool as ice. Even the little baby on the floor, sweet as she might be with her baby doll and toes turned in, doesn’t look very huggable. I’d like to keep all these girls at their distance. They are beautiful but also detached. What’s going on behind those pale faces? We don’t know. As a matter of fact, the one I find most approachable is the one not facing us. She looks shy. I might like to meet her.

I want to wonder what these girls thought when they saw their portrait. But then again, if I know the nature of their minds, the portrait itself might be ruined. Some people are meant only to be looked at, not known by the casual acquaintance.


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