Press release: Saint Louis Art Museum will acquire ‘Portrait of Charlotte Cram’ by John Singer Sargent

By | December 12, 2017

John Singer Sargent, American, 1856–1925; “Portrait of Charlotte Cram”, 1900; oil on canvas; 34 3/4 × 24 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund Endowment, Museum Purchase, and funds given by Mr. and Mrs. John Peters MacCarthy; Eliza McMillan Trust, Bequest of Elsie A. Kuhn, Gift of Edward J. Costigan in memory of his wife, Sara Guth Costigan, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Alden Sears, Gift of J. Harold Pettus, Gift of Charles F. Galt, Gift of William Henry Gruen, and Gift of Peggy Ives Cole, by exchange 211:2017

ST. LOUIS, Dec. 12, 2017—The Saint Louis Art Museum Board of Commissioners has authorized the purchase of “Portrait of Charlotte Cram,” a 1900 painting by John Singer Sargent, one of the most respected portraitists in American art history.

The painting will be on view starting today in Gallery 335.

Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum, said the museum long had sought a masterwork by one of the American ex-patriate artists who traversed the Atlantic during the Gilded Age.

“The purchase of ‘Portrait of Charlotte Cram’ underscores the Saint Louis Art Museum’s commitment to building its collection through strategic acquisitions,” Benjamin said. “The painting fills a critical gap in the museum’s American art collection, and I have no doubt the portrait will become a favorite for our visitors.”

Sargent’s depictions of children are an important part of his oeuvre, and this portrait of a seven-year-old American abroad has all the desirable aspects of this subject, said Melissa Wolfe, curator of American art.

“Charlotte sits in an oversized chair with the unaffected charm of youth,” Wolfe said. “The sparkle in her brown eyes, barely restrained smile, and tilt of her head is endearing without falling into the excess of sentimentality. Her youthful exuberance is only barely contained by the decorum of portraiture.”

Wolfe noted that Sargent’s ability to capture Charlotte’s psychology is matched by his extraordinary technical and aesthetic abilities. “Charlotte’s white taffeta dress and oversized yellow sash and bow are conveyed in the fluid, bravura brush strokes that characterize the best of Sargent’s works,” Wolfe said.

The painting will be installed in a gallery devoted to American art created between 1870 and 1920—a period marked by the creation of vast fortunes, rampant political corruption, oppressive working conditions, and financial panics. During this period, conveying one’s social position became less clear, and taste—or the ability to discern the fine from the common—became a mode to set the wealthy apart. Other highlights of Gallery 335 include Henry Ossawa Tanner’s “Gateway, Tangier” and Winslow Homer’s “The Country School.”

CONTACT: Matthew Hathaway, 314.655.5493,