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It’s Emily Sargent’s time for a showcase

In this watercolor by her more famous brother, John Singer Sargent, Emily Sargent is shown sketching in the company of two friends.John Singer Sargent

Emily Sargent was a prolific artist, creating hundreds of watercolor paintings during her lifetime. But unlike her celebrated brother, John Singer Sargent, her works were almost never exhibited.

Now the Sargent House Museum in Gloucester is preparing to help bring new attention to Emily Sargent’s art — and her life story — as a result of a recent donation to the nonprofit of 15 of her watercolor paintings.

The paintings are among 440 of Emily Sargent’s works discovered in 1998 in the attic of a Sargent family home in England that had been presumed lost following her death in 1936. The family recently donated the paintings to the Sargent House and five other institutions.


“We are delighted with this gift of Emily Sargent works,” said Amanda Hurd, past president of the Sargent House Museum board of directors and current chair of its collections committee. “The Emily Sargent works add an important component to our collections, and we look forward to sharing these beautiful watercolors with the public.”

“We were pleasantly surprised,” Jeremy Melvin, president of the Sargent House’s board of directors, said of the museum’s selection to receive some of the works, whose other recipients are Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts; Tate, in England; the National Gallery in Washington; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and Oxford University.

“It’s a wonderful thing for us. It reinforces our identity as an institution concerned about the Sargent family,” he added of the museum, which plans at a future date to exhibit the newly acquired paintings — along with letters and other artifacts that relate the story of Emily Sargent’s life.

The Sargent House Museum is in a 1782 Georgian home overlooking Main Street that was built for Judith Sargent Murray, a pioneering advocate of women’s education and equality and her husband, John Murray, a founder of the American Universalist church. Judith Sargent Murray was a great-grand-aunt of Emily and John Singer Sargent.


The museum is devoted to engaging the public with the life, times, writings, and home of Judith Sargent Murray. Open seasonally to visitors for tours, the historic house holds family portraits, furnishings, housewares, and other 18th- and 19th-century objects. (In recent years it has added a gallery to showcase contemporary works of area artists, primarily women).

But the museum has long had connections to the larger Sargent family dating from 1919 when a group including John Singer Sargent raised funds to purchase the house to preserve it as a museum. The renowned portrait artist, along with Emily Sargent and their cousin, prominent Harvard professor Charles Sprague Sargent, all signed the museum’s opening-day guest book..

Additionally, Charles Sprague Sargent at that time donated a charcoal portrait of him by John Singer Sargent, and over the next decade Emily Sargent donated her brother’s portraits of their mother and father, and Emily and her sister Violet Sargent Ormond donated four of Emily’s paintings. The museum has several other John Singer Sargent works.

Born in 1857, Emily Sargent — like her brother John — lived in Europe most of her life, according to Patricia Brady, a Sargent House board member. The newly acquired paintings depict scenes in the Middle East, North Africa, and Switzerland, evidence that she traveled widely and liked to paint during her trips.

“She got around a lot,” Brady said, noting that Emily traveled with her brother on many of those journeys.


“They were very close throughout their lives,” Brady said of the siblings. “He had a studio for many years in London that was within walking distance from her apartment.”

Brady said the Sargent House is thrilled to be in the company of the “prestigious museums” that were also recipients of Emily Sargent’s works.

“But we are even more excited to receive some of the long-lost paintings of a woman artist who received so little attention during her lifetime,” she added.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.

The Sargent House Museum in Gloucester.Sargent House Museum