Last year we managed to acquire a charcoal sketch by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) of Violet, Countess of Powis (1856-1929), for Powis Castle. The portrait is redolent of the grandeur and style of Edwardian upper-class life.
Sargent was hugely successful as a portrait painter, but in 1907 he effectively abandoned portraiture in oils. He was financially independent and preferred to focus on landscapes and other subjects.
However, he could not entirely escape the demands of his high society clientele, and in response to persistent demands he would agree to do a charcoal portrait, which he could finish in an hour or two.
More than 500 of these ‘mug shots’ (as he called them) are known. He originally charged twenty-one guineas for them, which rose to fifty around 1910 and later to a hundred.
Celebrities captured by Sargent in this way include Winston Churchill, King Edward VII, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother), Henry James, Vaslav Nijinsky and W.B. Yeats.
The purchase of the portrait of the Countess of Powis was supported by a grant from the Art Fund.