The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

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John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882
By LISA MAEDA

Who knew that a painting with so many people, could feel so lonely?

Influenced by Diego Velásquez, John Singer Sargent painted the four daughters of Edward Darley Boit with the intention of documenting their lives and their lavish household. Instead, Sargent paints a black hole in the Boit’s apartment, which the girls fade into. The painting was positively received, but viewers couldn’t help but criticize the void at the center. Why was it so sinister?

Perhaps Sargent had some insight into the personalities of his subjects. After all, the girls standing in the back, swallowed by the shadows, were the problem children. Florence, on the left, simply rejected the ladylike ideals pressed upon her. She didn’t care to attend any social events, and immersed herself in golf. Her sister on the right, Jane, was a different story. Unstable, physically and emotionally, her outbursts brought her to various mental institutions. The younger girls who stand in the light, Julia and Mary Louisa, lived fairly normal lives, contrasting with their spinster sisters.


Truthfully, this painting makes me feel like an adult. The days of my childhood have long passed, and I’m in a darker, lonelier world than these four girls before me.

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