.The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth has acquired a major, full-length painting by John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). The work, titled Edwin Booth from 1890, is a portrait of 19th-century Shakespearean actor, Edwin Booth (1833–1893), older brother of John Wilkes Booth. It was commissioned by members of The Players in New York City, a private club for actors founded by Booth and his friends in 1888, and remained there until 2002, when debt forced the club to sell it to a private collector.
The Amon Carter Museum announced the acquisition Friday. The painting is now on its first extended public display in the Amon Carter’s main gallery.
In the portrait, which museum officials said was purchased for about $5 million, Booth is seen in the full-length portrait posing in a dark, three-piece suit in front of the grand fireplace in the club’s hallway.
The painting is alluring because it was commissioned during the peak of Sargent’s career and because of its subject, a noted Shakespearean actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln in 1865, said Andrew J. Walker, director of the Amon Carter.
“There’s this wonderful sense of layered history in the subject matter,” said Walker, who noted that the portrait is “perhaps the most important acquisition the museum has made in the last 20 years.”
Sargent, one of the most admired portrait painters in the U.S. and Europe, captures the seriousness that Booth was known for as an actor, said Erica Hirshler, a curator of American paintings at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston. She said the painting was significant and a “great acquisition” for the Amon Carter.
“One thing I like about this one is Booth’s intensity is very quiet and it’s sort of echoed by the fact that there embers in the fireplace behind him. The setting sort of enhances the mood of the painting,” Hirshler said. “I like the combination of capturing a public figure in a private moment.”
The painting has only gone on public display twice before: for about a month in 1926 at Sargent’s memorial exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and from late November 2003 to late February 2004 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The Amon Carter was established by the will of Texas newspaper publisher, philanthropist and art collector Amon G. Carter. The museum opened in 1961, six years after Carter’s death.
“Sargent is one of the most important American artists and we are thrilled to add another one of his masterpieces to our collection,” said Andrew J. Walker, director of the Amon Carter. “We were particularly intrigued by this painting as it is among his most brilliantly conceived full-length male portraits.
“At first glance, Sargent’s Booth appears so alive that we can easily envision him delivering a soliloquy from Hamlet, one of his signature roles,” Walker continues. “Upon further study, we discover that the painting is a carefully nuanced work of art, one of quiet emotion.” The artist presents a life-size Booth in front of the grand fireplace in the club’s hallway, a place where Booth frequently stood giving toasts. (Booth, however, posed for the portrait in the artist’s studio a few blocks away.)
Edwin Booth joins another Sargent in the museum’s collection, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard (1888), which was acquired in 1999.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.