Portrait of James Whitcomb Riley

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925)

Currently on View in K212
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Riley is posed in a contemplative manner holding a book to suggest his profession as a writer.

In 1898 Riley delivered a poetry reading to benefit the Art Association of Indianapolis, the forerunner of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

John Singer Sargent: Celebrity Portraitist

"Sargent was born and raised in Florence, Italy, by his expatriate American parents. He moved to Paris, where he studied under the famed portraitist Carolus-Duran and attended the École des Beaux Arts, in 1874. Exhibited at the 1879 Salon, Sargent’s portrait of Carolus-Duran made an impression on the public and attracted many patrons. Another work, Portrait of Madame X (1884), brought him even more attention due to its audacious display of the sitter’s décolletage. The artist’s final years were spent in London, but he made periodic visits to America for the purpose of carrying out portrait commissions. Sargent was the most fashionable portraitist in England and the United States because of his brilliant technique, which flattered his subjects.

James Whitcomb Riley’s portrait was commissioned by the Art Association of Indianapolis and paid for with funds raised at an 1898 benefit performance, in which the poet read his own works. Sargent charged only one-third his normal fee because he often agreed to paint celebrities at minimal cost simply for publicity. Sargent captures the Hoosier poet’s personality in this study. While the likeness was received with mixed reviews by Riley’s friends, the portrait has an engaging directness befitting the poet’s no-nonsense nature"

Ormond, Richard and Elaine Kilmurray. John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2003.

Object Information

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925)
creation date
oil on canvas
36 x 30-1/2 in. (canvas)
47 x 41 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Painted on commission from the Art Association of Indianapolis
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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