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At first glance, viewers see a familiar, reverently painted family scene. Yet the details in Mary Cassat’s “The Boating Party” hint at an underlying tension, as well as the strictures of late 19th-century society.

John Singer Sargent painted the well-known image of the young Homer Saint-Gaudens as an intimate portrait for his friend, the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who was the boy’s father. In this and all his portraits of wealthy American youth, Sargent abandoned the sentimental approach of his contemporaries and painted them more naturalistically, with a keen, psychologically penetrating eye. In this image, he captures the impatience of the beautifully dressed young Homer with the boy’s expression and slumping pose.

Picturing America has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Because democracy demands wisdom.
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