"Few people are aware that the white gods and goddesses disporting themselves across the Sargent murals on the rotunda of the Museum of Fine Arts were posed for by a handsome African-American elevator operator. This catalogue of a show at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum shines new light on so many areas—on Sargent's working methods, on both the rigidity and the fluidity of race relations in the Gilded Age, on artist-model collaborations, on Mrs. Gardner as a collector, on Sargent's highly guarded personal life, new light on everything."
The story of the extraordinary collaboration behind one of John Singer Sargent’s renowned late masterpieces
In 1916, John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) met Thomas Eugene McKeller (1890–1962), a young African American elevator attendant, at Boston’s Hotel Vendome. McKeller became the principal model for Sargent’s murals in the new wing of the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, among the painter’s most ambitious works. Sargent’s nude studies and sketches from this project attest to a close collaboration between the two men that unfolded over nearly ten years.
Featuring drawings given by Sargent to Isabella Stewart Gardner and published in full for the first time, a portrait of McKeller, and archival materials reconstructing his life and relationship with Sargent, this book opens new avenues into artist-model relationships and transforms our understanding of Sargent’s iconic American paintings. Essays offer the first biography of McKeller and a window onto African American life in early-20th-century Boston. They also address the artist’s sexuality, his models, and questions of race and identity.