This is a portrait of Adèle Meyer (née Levis) with her daughter Elsie Charlotte and son Frank Cecil. Her husband, a banker, was foreign emissary of the Rothschilds and chairman of De Beers. The theatrical composition of the painting, with its plunging perspective, perhaps reflects Mrs Meyer’s own passion for theatre and opera. By using studio props, including the wood paneling and Louis XV sofa, Sargent created an image of opulence and unapologetic wealth reflecting the status of Adèle Meyer in society.
Gallery label, February 2016
The British beauty was married to a wealthy banker, but don’t mistake her for a Gilded Age real housewife—Meyer was a patron of the arts and a passionate crusader for the suffragist movement.
John Singer Sargent’s magisterial painting, Mrs. Carl Meyer and her Children of 1896, depicts Adèle Meyer with her children Elsie Charlotte and Frank Cecil. This remarkable work of art is one of Sargent’s most beloved portraits. When it was first shown at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1897 it was both praised and disparaged. Henry James reviewed the painting in Harper’s Weekly writing, “Of these elements Mr. Sargent has made a picture of a knock-down insolence of talent and truth of characterization, a wonderful rendering of life, of manners, of aspects, of types, of textures, of everything.”
Seductive, flamboyant, and deeply revealing, this lushly painted portrait captures the world of a privileged family of English Jews who lived over a century ago. Carl Meyer, the husband of the sitter, worked for the Rothschild family as their chief clerk and negotiator before becoming the deputy chairman of South Africa’s De Beers mining group. In 1910 he was ennobled with a Baronetcy.
As a society hostess known for her exuberant soirées, enchanting voice, and support of the arts, Lady Meyer was also a socially concerned philanthropist supporting working class women, underprivileged families, and women’s suffrage. On loan from the Tate Britain in London, it has been over 10 years since this painting was on view in the United States. The exhibition highlights this remarkable work—contextualizing it with other family portraits, family photographs, personal correspondence and domestic memorabilia, as well as satirical imagery from popular culture that relates to both the Meyer family and John Singer Sargent.
(More, including Meyer family photographs, at http://thejewishmuseum.org/exhibitions/john-singer-sargent-mrs.-carl-meyer-and-her-children)