While visiting family in Boston for the weekend, I returned to the Museum of Fine Arts. I came upon another of John Singer Sargent’s works, Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. The composition of the painting intrigued me; and so I have chosen to write about the piece.
This painting of four girls in an elegant room and doorway of what I presume to be their home, is a very posed, stagnant depiction. Three of the girls appear to be staring blankly at the painter, while one stands facing to the side, staring forward, away from the painter. None of the girls is engaged in the scene. It does not appear, however to be frozen in time, as no girl is actively acknowledging another, nor actively playing with their toys and dolls, as in the case of the girl sitting on the rug. Two of the girls stands in the darkened doorway, similarly dressed, with one a bit more stiffly posed than the other. In the front, a girl stands at attention behind and to the side of the child sitting on the floor. The curiosity I found with this painting is that for the most part they do not appear comfortable in their surroundings. The one noticeable dissent to that is that one girl in the doorway leans back against a large porcelain vase, probably a very expensive one, and so I would think that a child leaning against such a thing would cause great alarm to a parent for fear that it might be broken accidentally. Representing the child leaning against it leaves me to question whether she is simply very comfortable in her home, or perhaps upset or angry and responded by carelessly leaning against such a lavish piece of art. Theoretically, Sargent posed the girls himself, however I could not devise a reason for placing the girl facing off to the side the way she is.
Another compositional point I wish to make is that the painting feels somewhat unbalanced. Although the lights and darks work very well together with balanced contrast, I find the left side to be too heavy for the right. With the entire bodies of two girls, plus half of another, in addition to the very tall vase does not measure out against the smaller girl sitting on the floor and half of a girl in the back. What’s more is that none of the girls comes close to sitting near the right side, leaving the left side very weighty.