DALLAS (AP) — A Texas art museum announced Friday it had acquired a rarely displayed painting by John Singer Sargent that depicts Edwin Booth, the renowned 19th-century actor and brother of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin.
The portrait from 1890 was commissioned by members of The Players, a private club for actors founded by Booth and his friends. It remained there until 2002, when it was sold to a private collector. The painting is now on its first extended public display in the main gallery at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth.
In the full-length portrait by Sargent — one of the period’s most admired portrait painters — Booth is seen in a dark, three-piece suit in front of the grand fireplace in the club’s hallway. Museum officials said it was purchased for about $5 million.
The painting is alluring because it was commissioned during the peak of Sargent’s career and because of its subject, a noted Shakespearean actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln in 1865, said Andrew J. Walker, director of the Amon Carter.
“There’s this wonderful sense of layered history in the subject matter,” said Walker, who noted that the portrait is “perhaps the most important acquisition the museum has made in the last 20 years.”
Sargent captures the seriousness for which Edwin Booth was known as an actor, said Erica Hirshler, a curator of American paintings at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston. She said the painting was significant and a “great acquisition” for the Amon Carter.
“One thing I like about this one is Booth’s intensity is very quiet and it’s sort of echoed by the fact that there are embers in the fireplace behind him. The setting sort of enhances the mood of the painting,” Hirshler said. “I like the combination of capturing a public figure in a private moment.”
The painting has only gone on public display twice before: for about a month in 1926 at Sargent’s memorial exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and from late November 2003 to late February 2004 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The Amon Carter was established by the will of Texas newspaper publisher, philanthropist and art collector Amon G. Carter. The museum opened in 1961, six years after Carter’s death.
The Booth portrait joins another Sargent in the museum’s collection, an 1888 portrait of Alice Vanderbilt Shepard.