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Confronting Elsie Palmer: John Singer Sargent as a Painter of Real Women

Hayes, Alexa Leisering (2010)
Honors Thesis (81 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Merrill, Linda
Committee Members: Margariti, Roxani ; Rohrer, Judith
Research Fields: Art History
Keywords: Elsie Palmer; Palmer; Colorado Springs; John Singer Sargent; Ightham Mote; Glen Eyrie; Queen Palmer; General William Jackson Palmer
Program: College Honors Program, Art History
Permanent url:


Confronting Elsie Palmer: John Singer Sargent as a Painter of Real Women
By Alexa L. Hayes
Studies John Singer Sargent's portrait Elsie Palmer (1889-90: Colorado Springs
Fine Arts Center) not simply as a likeness, but as a psychologically penetrating painting
of a complex individual. Visual analysis of preliminary sketches and the final portrait
reveals Sargent's meaningful changes of composition, pose, hair, scale, and painting
style. Investigates the biography of Elsie Mellen Palmer and her relationship with her
parents, General William Jackson Palmer, an American railroad pioneer, and Queen
Palmer, an American expatriate in England, through various sources including previously
unexplored archival materials. Details Queen Palmer's immersion in a close-knit art
circle that included Sargent, Ellen Terry, Henry James, and Alice Strettell (Mrs. J.
Comyns Carr). Investigates Ightham Mote, the idyllic English manor house where the
Palmers lived while embracing the ideals of the Aesthetic movement. Illuminates how
Sargent represented Elsie as a person caught between America and England, her mother
and father, girlhood and womanhood, and as an unwilling sitter for Sargent's painting and
an uncomfortable participant in the life chosen for her.

Table of Contents


Introduction 1

The Painting 6

The Sketches 12

Complications 23

The Palmer Family 25

The Setting 38

Family Connections 41

Who Was Elsie Palmer 47

Other Unwilling Sitters 53

Concluding Thoughts 59

Bibliography 63

Archival Materials 64

List of Figures 65


application/pdf Honors Thesis 81 pages (4.8 MB) [Access copy of Honors Thesis]
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