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Doppelgänger: John Singer Sargent, Across Time

Date and Time: 
Tuesday, November 17, 2020. 02:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Working Group in Literary & Visual Culture 2019
Meeting Description: 

Caroline Culp will present "Doppelgänger: John Singer Sargent, Across Time" with respondent Nathan Wainstein.

This work-in-progress research centers on a 1900 group portrait by John Singer Sargent. The famed American expatriate painter received this rather odd commission in 1899; the special order was to create the match to an original work by John Singleton Copley of 1786, another American expat portraitist with striking similarities to Sargent. While Sargent had already painted many companion paintings, called “pendants,” all had been of the standard style: matching portraits of a married couple, produced at or around the same time, framed independently, and displayed as a pair. Sargent’s 1899 commission was thus odd because it produced a pendant consisting of works paired not only in space, as was traditional, but also across time. Taking this pendant commission as a case study, this paper recovers the position of the cross-generational pendant as an innovative visual form, one that was capable of breaking portraiture’s standard fiction of temporal continuity. Bringing to bear evidence ranging from across the literary and visual arts, it argues that this avant-garde pendant reflects fin-de-siècle attitudes towards the cultural position of history and the temporality of portraiture. Drawing from novels like Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth (1905) to Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (1913-17), and considering more philosophical texts like Henri Bergson’s Time and Free Will (1889), this paper seeks to understand the cross-generational pendant as a vehicle for understanding turn-of-the century conceptions of time as mobile and incomplete. 

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