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Fairchild Portrait by John Singer Sargent

Portrait of Lucius Fairchild by John Singer Sargent, 1887.
(Museum object #1942.305)

After losing an arm at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, General Lucius Fairchild returned to a political career in Wisconsin, eventually serving as governor for three successive terms (1866-1872). In the 1870s and 1880s Fairchild received several diplomatic appointments to European nations, serving in England, France, and Spain.

For the most part, however, Fairchild devoted his retirement to veterans' interests, and at the time of this portrait Fairchild was national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Civil War veterans.

This portrait was commissioned by the G.A.R. for its outgoing leader and the selection of John Singer Sargent as the artist was made at the suggestion of his wife, Frances Bull Fairchild. The composition of the portrait, with its numerous badges and empty sleeve in the foreground, clearly identifies Fairchild as a Civil War hero. He apparently disliked the weeks' long sitting for this portrait and in a letter to his wife assessed the finished work as 'a lot of badges running off with a bald-headed man.' The portrait was executed in Boston in 1887 when both Sargent and Fairchild were visiting the latter's brother, Charles Fairchild.

One of the great painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, John Singer Sargent earned a reputation as a portrait painter of the influential and powerful, including Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. Born and raised in Europe by an American expatriate family, Sargent studied art in Paris and was influenced by both the old masters and the contemporary Impressionists.

Sargent's stature rose significantly in the 1890s and early 1900s through important portrait and mural commissions. But Sargent was much more than a portrait painter. He was also a prolific landscape and figure artist, painting more than 1,000 oils and watercolors. Although he spent most of his career working in London, Sargent always considered himself an American artist.

Conservator Barry Bauman performed extensive treatment on this portrait in 2005. To find out more about Bauman's work on the painting, view his full case study that details the historical context of the Fairchild portrait by Sargent and Washington portraiture and the extensive measures Bauman took to restore the painting.


Posted on June 30, 2005

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