07 June 2010

the gilded Minturn, as the century turned

photograph by Lee Bey ,here

The New York Times, in its announcement of the celebrated Stokes-Minturn marriage, noted, "The bride is widely known for her beauty and her poses in tableaux charitable objects have attracted the attention of artists. She posed in the Court of Honor at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago as the 'Statue of the Republic.' A photograph of this post took the first prize at the last exhibition by the Society of Photographers."

& So-I began thinking about the beautiful woman in the portrait by John Singer Sargent after being prompted by friend and blogger An Aesthete's Lament with this information about the sitter of my favorite of the Sargent portraits-I can envision her striding forth from the pages of a Wharton or James novel- the fully blown modern American woman. She possessed "in operatic conditions, a radiance, even a slight exaltation; as she was, however, at all times a keenly-glancing, quickly-moving, completely animated young woman." Henry James

Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes, 1897
Oil on canvas
84 1/4 x 39 3/4 in.
Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104)

 The Stokes were married on August 25, 1895, and the portrait by Sargent was a wedding gift from James A. Scrimser. Sargent's first intention was to paint a single portrait of Edith during the summer of 1897 in Venice. After numerous posing and preparatory sessions, the artist decided to paint her as if she were just returning from a brisk walk outdoors, with a greyhound at her side. After the portrait was finished, however, the greyhound was no longer available and I. N. Phelps Stokes suggested that he take its place. Sargent agreed, and the single portrait became a double portrait.Source: John Singer Sargent: Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes (38.104) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Edith was to have been painted in Sargent's de rigueur satins and silks, but he reworked the painting to depict Edith in her walking costume as her appeared one day after coming into his studio from a walk. As noted- the husband stepped in for the dog and the hat substituted for the dog's head. Mrs Anson Stokes, I.P's mother, had inquired with Sargent about a portrait of her son, while Sargent's commissions were piled up as it were, he suggested his friend James McNeill Whistler to paint I.P. The cost was too high said Mrs Stokes- so this is perhaps another reason I.P. appears just behind his bride Edith Minturn. Likely the loss of the dog (one source says a great dane-which seems more likely) is the reason. We now look with remembrances of things past onto canvas as the new Mrs Stokes boldly stands hand on hip, the deft stroke of Sargent's brush of a diamond, sparkling on her hand. Colour in her cheeks- a glow-, the lady would: "always be in harmony with the most pleasing impression she should produce; she would be what she appeared, and she would appear what she was. Sometimes she went so far as to wish that she might find herself some day in a difficult position, so that she should have the pleasure of being as heroic as the occasion demanded."  Henry James 

Edith Minturn Stokes in all her golden glory as The Republic. This gorgeous iamge is from the elegant and scholarly blog THE CLASSICIST here ,produced by the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America.

The original Daniel Chester French statue placed at the eastern end of the Court of Honor at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition-The Chicago World's Fair- was designed in gilded plaster & a was a magnificent 65 feet tall. The figure was none other than our subject Edith Minturn. At the time the Chicago Tribune wrote,“It impresses by its grand presence, its serene and noble face, and its perfect harmony with its magnificent surroundings, by its wonderful fitness.” According to historian Mary Lackritz Gray, The Republic monument established sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850 – 1931) at the forefront of American art as the turn of the century dawned. The Lincoln Memorial is also the work of French's.

 images from Douglas Yeo here

French was also commissioned to recreate The Republic , standing at 24 feet in 1918. This in commemoration of the  Exposition's 25 anniversary  and the Illinois Centennial. In 1992,  The Republic was regilded for the 100th anniversary of the Exposition. The statue stands in Jackson Park on Chicago's South Side-spot of the 1893 Fair. The figure wears a laurel wreath and holds a staff in hand that reads “Liberty” & in the other an orb with an eagle. The incredible sites at the Exposition's White City  inspired L.Frank Baum's Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. Plans for the Exposition grounds were created by Frederick Law Olmsted, and the Beaux-Arts architecture of the buildings was under the direction of Daniel Burnham, Director of Works for the Exposition.

image of the Court of Honor at night lit by electricity here

Another of French's gilded ladies in the likeness of Edith Minturn sits atop the granite dome of the Wisconsin State House. "Wisconsin" in bronze stands 15 feet 5 inches and was placed on the dome in 1915; she holds a globe in her left hand with an eagle perched & her helmet is adorned with a badger, Wisconsin’s state animal.

Equal in physical beauty to Sargent's painting of Edith Minturn Stokes is a portrait painted by Cecilia Beaux in 1898 of Edith. Knowing her portrait of Edith would be compared to Sargent's -Cecilia, long pull out all the stops! Throughout her life she was a one of the foremost"female" painters and her work was constantly compared to the famous Sargent-whom she considered a friend. Exquisitely dressed, Edith is seated with a small volume in hand-finger marking the place-just as if she might have been disturbed while reading and was determined to continue at the passage she had last left. This small detail gives some insight into the brilliant mind and the depth of the sitter. Edith would have been one of these women that subscribed to the adage- "Beauty is but skin deep." Her famed tableaux were often performed for charity and upon her marriage she became a great crusader for the Kindergarten Movement. The couple shared this great passion for the city of New York's poor and her husband I.P. would often go and sleep in the poorest of tenement houses to study housing reforms needed. Our beautiful couple were-in a word- Progressives.

Friend to the couple,Reverend William Rainsford, officiated at their wedding in 1895, said of Edith:

"I have known one or two women as beautiful; 
one or two women as interesting; 
one or two women as spiritual; 
but for the combination of the three-
I have never known her equal."

Mrs Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes 
Edith Minturn ,1898
portrait by Cecilia Beaux
image from here

"Her reputation of reading a great deal hung about her like a cloudy envelope of a goddess in an epic"  Henry James
Edith's in-laws, 
Mr and Mrs Anson Phelps Stokes
painted by Cecilia Beaux
image from the Met here

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Cecilia Beaux portrait of the Anson Phelps Stokes bears similarities to the Sargent portrait of the young marrieds. This Beaux portrait is assumed to be painted around 1898-perhaps Beaux knew of the Sargent composition, perhaps the portrait I.P. referred to in his letter to Beaux as "my mother's" -Mrs. Stokes portrait evolved into the double portrait just as Sargent's portrait had evolved. It is unfortunate that the Beaux portrait was exhibited at the same time of Sargent portrait and the critics panned it as a resounding failure for Beaux.

the celebrated Minturn sisters, Edith is far right
image from wiki here

...to say the Minturn sisters married well would be a slight- Two- the eldest, Sarah May, along with Mildred married Sedgwicks, and Gertrude married a Pinchot. Edith and I.P. met on Staten Island during a summer vacation- It was a love match.

Edith's sister Sarah May Sedgwick, Edith's Mother & Grandmother-
image from here

In about 1910, Edith's architect husband I.N. had an old Ipswich, England timber mansion packed into 668 crates & shipped to New York- Greenwich  would be its final destination and establish the Stokes family's home. Landing safely, the timbers were warehoused and re-constructed adding timbers of a wrecked English ship- it came to rest as a fine mansion, overlooking Long Island Sound near Greenwich. The grounds and walled garden, Pleasaunce, were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. Here sisters, nieces, nephews came to visit the Stokes and their adopted daughter Helen.

High Low House

image from here
"Greenwich in Pictures"
The Greenwich Press, Greenwich, CT (1929)

By the 1930s, Edith had suffered a series of debilitating  strokes. I.P. continued to give Edith the most full life he could, though she was paralyzed & left unable to speak-he belief that her mental faculties remained intact. Her last years, I.P. spent time by her bedside reading, and strolling her through Central Park. Stokes continued to live in the city after Edith died-simplifying his living arrangements, living frugally for a once millionaire. He believed ghosts haunted the city : "I have long specialized in dreams of old New York, and they are the most delightful of all my dreams, I wander over the hills and valleys, and often through virgin forests, and sometimes come out on the shore of the Hudson or the East River where I recognize the topography from the old maps, and take great pleasure in searching for landmarks which I know exist—or at least existed at the time pictured in my dream. Sometimes I find them, and am thrilled by the discovery, but curiously they are almost never inhabited." -I.N.Phelps Stokes

Upon Edith's death the Sargent portrait was given to the Metropolitan and hangs there now for countless admirers.
The more intimate Cecilia Beaux portrait remained in I.P.'s possession and remains in the family.

"It has made me better loving you...it has made me wiser, and easier, and brighter. I used to want a great many things before, and to be angry that I did not have them. Theoretically, I was satisfied. I flattered myself that I had limited my wants. But I was subject to irritation; I used to have morbid sterile hateful fits of hunger, of desire. Now I really am satisfied, because I can’t think of anything better. It’s just as when one has been trying to spell out a book in the twilight, and suddenly the lamp comes in. I had been putting out my eyes over the book of life, and finding nothing to reward me for my pains; but now that I can read it properly I see that it’s a delightful story." Henry James

& a post script

 "Edie" Edith Minturn Sedgwick was named after her father’s aunt, Edith Minturn (his mother’s older sister)

read my Rosamond Pinchot( Edith's niece) post here
the Stokes-Minturn nuptials in the NY Times here
another Stokes story here

see Edith Minturn's grandmother, mother and sister Sarah here
the Daniel Chester French post from The Classicist here
a lecture by Akela Reason about the Cecilia Beaux portrait here 


  1. What amazing sentiments from Henry James. I am envious.

  2. I love that Edith was animated; I think I would have loved meeting her (since I am so laid back - kind of nothing like Edith). Cecilia Beaux is one of my favorite artists. THE WOMEN'S ROOM by Germaine Greer is a wonderful book about women artists, their work and what they had to overcome. I wonder what Edith would have thought about Little Edie...

  3. And a sister-in-law was the ravishing Rita Lydig (once married to I N Stokes's brother, W E D Stokes) ... a niece was the astoundingly beautiful actress Rosamond Pinchot ... and a great-grand-niece is decorator Stephanie Stokes (granddaughter of W E D Stokes and his second wife, Helen Ellwood).

  4. Author, Hope you read the great links, some references to James there. I am still fascinated with him each time I return to his novels. pgt

  5. Donna, You think like I do- I find her to be quite charming-that portrait the Sargent resounds with all the charm in the world, the Beaux-her innate elegance and intellect. I wonder too?

  6. AAL, thank you for probing and direction on this one. I did read the Rosamond Pinchot book by her gdaughther Bibi Gaston and did a post on her last summer. a great read too. Many individual stories there, the Edie book upon return is disturbing-have read it when it came out over 25 years ago-it now seems Edie was doomed from birth. pgt

  7. thanks for your post about the gulf yesterday. i linked to it and to E.A.'s as well.

  8. Thank you! A truly inspiring couple. I think Edith was also the model for Alma Mater at Columbia U (I get to see her every day):

    I.N. designed the very beautiful St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia and was the author/compiler of the truly fabulous 6 volume Iconography of Manhattan Island (I think the public can link it here:
    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/digital/collections/cul/texts/ldpd_5800727_001/index.html) See also: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/avery/spotlights/stokes.print.html

  9. Mlle Paradis, many thanks,pgt

    Down East- ah thank you. I knew You would appreciate this one. pgt

  10. Anon, I think so too. Thank you so much for the links, I hope you will check out "another Stokes story" if you haven't already-it is a wonderfully written piece that gives Stokes his due. pgt

  11. Yes, thank you for posting "Another Stokes story"-- although I think the author relied too much on caricature in the depiction of LaGuardia.

  12. Not a great classical beauty but intelligent and vibrant.
    What an extraordinary family - this post has so much in it to wonder at. Thank you.

  13. Rosie, Yes vibrant is a good description- It is the Sargent that seems to represent so much beyond a beautiful portrait.The Stokes story link is a great one. pgt

  14. When I visited the Metropolitan Museum I came across the painting by Sargent. I was captivated by it, by her, I should say. I admired her confidence, her style and her beauty. I wanted to me her very much.
    Thank you for your essay and the interspersions of James. It reads like a PBS transcript - They should produce it!

  15. Mark, thank you for your visit and I love, as do many others, this Sargent painting. She represents that new era that carried such hope and change in the world view. If you know someone at PBS -let me know. pgt

  16. Thank you very much for pulling this information together about Edith. I.N. and Edith have fascinated me for years, and I've gone so far as to correspond with descendants of the couple (I.N. and Edith had no children of their own, but they did adopt a daughter). I've a very nice issue of a 1923 Home and Garden magazine featuring the High Low house. One of the photos shows Edith standing in a doorway. Owing to I.N.'s obsessiveness in compiling his multi volume Iconography of Manhattan Island, much of his personal fortune was depleted. Heavily invested in New York City real estate, much of the remainder of his wealth was lost during the Great Depression. High Low house was subsequently sold and the estate was subdivided. Regrettably, High Low house no longer stands. Again, thank you so very much. JPH

  17. It is always hard to see progress steal away beautiful houses. I found Edith a beautiful, progressive woman. She left a mark, and obviously He did too. If you are of a nature to scan the photograph and send it my way I would love to use it for a post. thank you for stopping by. pgt

  18. Her personality comes through brilliantly in that portrait! (poor husband.......!)

    That is the "sign" if a great portrait painter! (someone did a portrait of me in my thirties; my cousin saw it; and said........"I guess that would look like you if you had a lobotomy"! I destroyed it! I looked like a "vacant lot"!!

    This young woman in her linen skirt (I want one)
    looks vibrant, alive, and about to say something we would like to hear!

    Lovely! Thank you for showing us!




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