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Sargent's Women

Four Lives Behind the Canvas


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The fascinating backstories of four women painted by John Singer Sargent come alive in this seductive, multi-layered biography.

With unprecedented access to newly discovered sources, Donna M. Lucey illuminates the lives of four women painted by the society portraitist John Singer Sargent. With uncanny clairvoyance, Sargent’s portraits hint at the mysteries, passions and tragedies that unfolded in his subjects’ lives. Elsie Palmer carried on a labyrinthine love life in a Rocky Mountain castle; Elizabeth Chanler stepped into a maze of infidelity with her best friend’s husband; as the veiled image of Sally Fairchild emerged on the canvas, her sister was lured into an ill-fated life in art; and shrewd Isabella Stewart Gardner collected both art and young men. Born to unimaginable wealth, these women lived on an operatic scale; their letters and diaries create a rich depiction of the Gilded Age and the painter whose canvases defined the era.


“Ingenious.” — Frances Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

“Straight from the pages of a novel by Edith Wharton or Henry James.” — The Times

“[Lucey pieces together] lost stories, and the stormy brew of scandal and repression that affected these women—and Sargent himself.” — Elle

“As rich as [Sargent’s] portraits are, the textural evidence in which Ms. Lucey ensnares them is finer still.” — The Wall Street Journal

“[These women] were smart, passionate, willful, adventurous and striking-looking.… Lucey’s prose is invitingly conversational and quick-flowing.” — The Washington Post

“It [Sargent's Women] tells of an era long gone yet still fascinating.” — Choice

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Bawdry in the bloodstream

Review of Sargent's Women in the Times Literary Supplement