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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
 
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JOHN SINGER SARGENT
American, born Italy, 1856 - 1925
Mrs. Joshua Montgomery Sears (Sarah Choate Sears)
1899
Oil on canvas

58 1/8 x 38 1/8 inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of George R. Brown in honor of his wife, Alice Pratt Brown

Arts of North America
 
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This portrait depicts John Singer Sargent’s lifelong friend Sarah Sears, a photographer and patron of the arts in Boston. Her alert pose, intense gaze, and upper-body posture contrast with the seemingly relaxed position of her lower body, an instance of how Sargent seemed to capture, as one critic wrote, “the nervous tension of the age.”

Sears played an important role in a number of artists’ careers by buying their works and providing additional support. Together with her friend, and often rival, art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner, Sears served as a preeminent Boston tastemaker at the turn of the 20th century. In addition, Sears was an accomplished painter and photographer who exhibited her work in important international exhibitions such as the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago and the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo, New York.

In this painting, Sears’s satin dress exemplifies Sargent’s extraordinary skill at rendering white, subtly nuanced with painterly flourishes of lavender, blue, and pink. The stunning surface display of paint connotes elegance and dash, and illustrates what made Sargent the portraitist of choice for the aristocracy of England and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.