Home Arts Norton Museum in Florida acquires John Singer Sargent’s portrait of socialite who sponsored Amelia Earhart

Norton Museum in Florida acquires John Singer Sargent’s portrait of socialite who sponsored Amelia Earhart

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John Singer Sargent, the portrait painter of American society, and Amelia Earhart, the daredevil American aviator, may belong to a kind of national pantheon, but it is difficult to imagine that they will ever cross paths. Today, a missing link between the two has resurfaced – Sargent’s stately 1905 portrait of socialite and philanthropist Amy Phipps Guest, who sponsored Earhart’s crucial first transatlantic flight in 1928.

This week the Norton Art Museum in West Palm Beach, Florida, announced the acquisition Portrait of Mrs. Frederick Guest (Amy Phipps)a nearly five-foot-tall work from the artist’s heyday as a chronicler of the Anglo-American elite.

Amy Phipps Guest (1872-1959) was the daughter of Henry Phipps, Jr, a business partner of Pennsylvania steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and the portrait was commissioned to commemorate her marriage to Frederick Edward Guest, known as of Freddie, who was a grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. The painting is a gift from Phipps Guest’s grandson, Alexander MDC Guest, and the Guest family.

Phipps Guest sat for the portrait at Sargent’s now legendary London studio on Tite Street in Chelsea. It contains the artist’s signature touches, says Paul Fisher, professor of American studies at Wellesley College and author of The Big Deal: John Singer Sargent and His World, published last year. Instantly recognizable as Sargent, the portrait features a lush 18th-century-style landscape in the background, rendered in Sargent’s distinctive loose brushwork.

Fisher says the stage’s decorative balustrade was one of Sargent’s ‘amazing props’ – part of a cache of ‘priceless antiquities’, he adds, ‘which were cataloged and sold when he died. “. He compares the architectural fragment to the pearls of the model as a “status accessory”.

Phipps Guest and her husband were early aviation enthusiasts. In the early 1920s Freddie Guest, a Liberal MP, was British Secretary of State for Air (following his cousin, Winston Churchill). By this time the couple had separated and Phipps Guest, who owned large residences on Long Island and Palm Beach, had growing ambitions to follow in the proverbial footsteps of Charles Lindbergh and become the first woman to cross the Atlantic. She organized a plane and flight crew, but after her family convinced her it was too dangerous, she suggested a replacement. Earhart, an amateur pilot then working as a social worker in Boston, took her place.

In 1928, a year after Lindbergh’s solo crossing, Earhart – who for this flight was more a token passenger than a pilot – and the crew made the trip from Newfoundland to Wales in less than 21 hours. Under the high profile sponsorship of Phipps Guest, the crossing made the photogenic Earhart, known as ‘Lady Lindy’, a top celebrity. His subsequent disappearance in 1937 over the Pacific, as part of an attempted round-the-world flight, was one of the biggest news stories of his time.

The Sargent portrait of Earhart’s sponsor caused a stir in 1906, when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. But it hasn’t been shown in public since the 1940s and hasn’t been hung at all for 20 years. The longtime former owner of the work was Phipps Guest’s daughter-in-law, socialite and confidante of the Duke of Windsor, CZ Guest. She died in 2003 and the portrait has been “in storage ever since,” says her son, Alexander Guest. The painting was officially handed over to the Nortons at the end of 2022.

Guest, a Miami-based gemologist and jewelry specialist, says he chose the West Palm Beach institution over major museums like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick Collection so that the portrait of his great -mother can be “a star” and not “end up in the basement”, which can happen to the best of paintings in the largest collections.

John Singer Sargent Study for the “Les Danaïdes” fresco at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston1921-25 Courtesy of Norton Museum of Art

The Norton placed his new Sargent in a classically themed installation, displaying him with the artist’s 1920s charcoal-on-paper study for The Danaidesa large mural commissioned by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, completed near the end of his life.

In 1907, shortly before closing his Chelsea studio, Sargent painted Phipps Guest’s mother and son, Winston Guest (Alexander’s father). This work, which echoes Phipps Guest’s earlier portrait, is on display at Old Westbury Gardens, the Long Island estate built by Amy Phipps Guest’s brother, John Shaffer Phipps, now open to the public.

Both of Phipps’ works were done at a time when Sargent was growing weary of painting society ladies, Fisher says. During the Tite Street sessions, he says, the artist sometimes went behind a screen to stick his tongue out in frustration. And he would tell his friends, hinting at plans to give up the line of work that had made him rich and famous, “No more cups.”

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