• Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

Rethinking the National Galleries: Lady Agnew of Lochnaw

ByLily Brown

Jan 24, 2024
A painted portrait of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw sitting on a chair

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is the most well-known John Singer Sargent painting in the National Galleries. Sargent was a prominent expatriate American impressionist painter, and it was this portrait that secured his renown in Britain. The painting depicts Lady Gertrude Agnew as she lounges on an armchair in a luxurious white dress with a mauve sash in front of blue Chinese wallpaper. Her pose is relaxed but her gaze is direct, evoking a feeling of intimacy between her and the viewer. This is further reinforced through a soft colour palette, with blues, whites, and purples forming much of the painting. Upon its debut, the portrait was celebrated by both critics and the general public, and it greatly increased Lady Agnew’s profile in British society. Ironically, in order to maintain her new-found celebrity lifestyle, Lady Agnew was forced to sell the very painting which had brought her fame. The portrait was considered unusual at the time for its casual informality which contrasted contemporary portraiture which tended towards the formal and grand. The popularity of Sargent’s approach here prefigures today’s celebrity culture which is centred on relatable authenticity over displays of opulence intended to create a barrier between the us and them. Sargent’s painting is both a masterful evocation of atmosphere and continued reminder of how the wealthy chose to present themselves. 

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw – John Singer Sargent” by afonsojose53 is marked with Public domain mark 1.0.