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The Green Tree: Highlights from the Collection of the Mutual Assurance Company of Philadelphia - April 2007
 
 
painting
 
Cecilia Beaux
(1855–1942)
J. Dickinson Sergeant, 1907
Oil on canvas, 30 1/4 × 25 1/4 inches
Signed at lower left: “Cecilia Beaux”
Exhibited: “Cecilia Beaux,” Boston Art Club, 1907, no. 18. “Special Exhibition of the Works of Eminent Living American Artists,” Art Club of Philadelphia, December 9, 1910–January 9, 1911. “Exhibition of Oil Paintings by Miss Cecilia Beaux,” The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., February 14–March 17, 1912, no. 18, as “The Late Dickinson Sergeant, Esq.” “Framing the Board: A Look at Corporate Portraiture,” Mutual Assurance Company and Independence National Historic Park, Second Bank of the United States, Philadelphia, October 27, 1982–January 17, 1983, no. 13.
References: Garvan and Wojtowicz 1977, 69, illus. Henry S. Drinker, The Paintings and Drawings of Cecilia Beaux (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1955), 92.
RS 6221


Philadelphia to a distinguished family; his grandfather had been a member of the First Continental Congress. After studying law at the University of Pennsylvania, Sergeant was admitted to the bar in 1845. He pursued various business interests, including the development of the mining industry in Virginia, and was a manager of the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society and a director of the Guarantee Trust & Safe Deposit Company. He was elected a trustee of the Mutual Assurance Company in 1875 and served as chairman of the board from 1906 until his death. Sergeant helped establish the Philadelphia Zoological Gardens, and was an active member of the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.1 He was also an amateur photographer. His sister Elizabeth Norris Sergeant married the portraitist John Lambert, Jr. (1861–1907), who was also a trustee of the Mutual Assurance Company.

Cecilia Beaux was born in Philadelphia, where she was educated at home and took drawing lessons with her aunt. During the early 1870s she took private lessons with the Dutch artist Adolf van der Whelen. Later in the decade Beaux studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, made drawings of fossils for a U.S. Geological Survey project, and painted portraits on porcelain. During the early 1880s she had some instruction from William Sartain (1843–1924). After some of her paintings attracted favorable reviews at the annual exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy, she went to Europe in 1888 and attended the Académie Julian and later the Atelier Colarossi. Beaux returned to the United States in 1892. That same year she began to frequent New York and first exhibited at the National Academy of Design. She was elected an associate member of that organization in 1893.

Beaux taught drawing and portraiture at the Pennsylvania Academy from 1895 until 1915. During the 1890s she developed her mature style, influenced by impressionism and characterized by a fluid, painterly technique. She became one of the leading portraitists of her generation, and her work was often compared to that of her contemporary John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). Although Beaux painted many leading public figures, she was especially noted for her images of women and children. Such was Beaux’s stature that in 1899 William Merritt Chase pronounced her “not only the greatest living woman painter, but the best that has ever lived.”2 She settled in New York in 1900, and after 1905 summered regularly in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She was elected a full academician of the National Academy in 1902. In the years that followed Beaux exhibited widely, won numerous prestigious awards, and traveled to Europe. She gradually ceased to paint after breaking her hip in 1924 and devoted most of her time to writing her autobiography Background with Figures (New York, 1930).3

No documentation survives concerning the process by which the trustees of the Mutual Assurance Company commissioned Sergeant’s portrait, for which the artist was paid $1,500 on April 11, 1907. Beaux’s bust portrait of Sergeant is an outstanding example of her work from this period. She placed great emphasis on delineating the texture of the sitter’s coat with energetic brushstrokes that are repeated in the decorative background. Evidently Beaux felt that this was one of the best portraits she painted during this period because she personally asked the Mutual Assurance Company to lend it to exhibitions at the Art Club of Philadelphia in 1910 and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 1912. Henry S. Drinker, in his list of Beaux’s paintings, quoted a critic who had seen the Sergeant portrait at the Boston Art Club in 1907 as saying that the sitter’s “expression denotes acceptance of life as well as an understanding of it.”4

Notes

1. Obituary, Public Ledger, June 12, 1909.

2. Philadelphia Public Ledger, November 3, 1899.

3. Tara Leigh Tappert, Cecilia Beaux and the Art of Portraiture [exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery] (Washington, D.C., 1995); Alice A. Carter, Cecilia Beaux: A Modern Painter in the Gilded Age (New York: Rizzoli, 2005).

4. Henry S. Drinker, The Paintings and Drawings of Cecilia Beaux (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1955), 92.


  


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