Ena and Betty, Daughers of Asher and Mrs Wertheimer 1901 - now owned by Tate Britain
Some years ago, when the VV found a postcard of this painting by John Singer Sargent she was stunned by the resemblance it bore to her mother, Barbara, and her mother's sister, Hazel.
It is in fact a portrait of Ena (Helena) and Betty (Elizabeth) Wertheimer, the daughters of a dealer who helped to secure comissions for the artist for, despite his youthful enthusiasm for painting the sea and all things marine, Sargent actually went on to find his fame when creating such glamorous portraits as this.
In Tate Etc, the Tate's online magazine, I found Josh Lacey's description of his first impression of this painting -
"One afternoon I was wandering through Tate Britain and noticed a full-length portrait of two women, hanging so high that I had to walk back and look up, straining my neck. I was entranced by their animation, their intentness, their openness, the force of their personalities.
They are two of the daughters of Asher Wertheimer, a successful Jewish art dealer who had a gallery in Bond Street. I imagine him as wealthy and successful, but always insecure, always conscious that he was, to some extent, considered a foreigner. He commissioned John Singer Sargent to paint twelve portraits of himself, his wife and their children. Jacques-Emile Blanche, who knew both the artist and the family, wrote that Sargent “was excited when he did the Wertheimer family, the father whom Rembrandt would have painted with a turban, the daughters with their gypsy complexion”. The portraits forged a friendship between the enigmatic American painter and the big, bustling brood of Wertheimers. Soon, Sargent was a constant visitor at their house and a place was always kept for him at their dinner table.
I’ve now seen all twelve, but this remains my favourite, mainly because of the passion and vitality in Ena’s face. She’s standing on the right, one hand resting on a vase, the other looped around her younger sister’s waist. Sargent sketched and painted her several times. In some way, although no one knows quite how, he fell for her. And, via him, I did too."
I'm with Josh. Those girls look like fun, just as Barbara and Hazel Harris were - and still are - and hopefully will be for many years to come.
ADDENDUM: Thanks to the lovely author Liz Fenwick and her comment below, I have now discovered this glorious portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Isn't it striking! It makes me love Sargent's work even more.