THE WHITE BLACKBIRD: A Life of the Painter Margarett Sargent by Her Granddaughter by Honor Moore

THE WHITE BLACKBIRD: A Life of the Painter Margarett Sargent by Her Granddaughter

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A compelling biography of a troubled socialite and talented but minor artist. Rich, charming, and a drop-dead beauty, Margarett Sargent (1892-1978) was also a footnote in the history of art. An independent spirit from the start, Sargent challenged her conservative and wealthy Bostonian family by pursuing a career, first as a sculptor of portrait busts and later as a painter. She studied with, among others, Gutzon Borglum (of Mount Rushmore fame) at his art camp in Turn of River, Conn., and George Luks, who became Sargent's most important mentor and friend. She exhibited fairly regularly in solo and group shows between 1916 and 1936. Critic Henry McBride wrote in 1930: ""If she is ever able to forget, or conceal, her somewhat noticeable admiration for Matisse she will prove an artist that has to be taken very much into account."" But in 1936, Sargent felt that creating art had gotten ""too intense,"" and she turned instead to gardening. Sargent's artistic career is only part of this story, however. Like a character out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, she partied, flirted, and drank to excess. Alcoholism, along with severe mental illness, undermined her career, her marriage, and, ultimately, her life. Her last decades were pathetic and lonely ones, spent in and out of various mental institutions. In this carefully researched biography, Moore, the artist's granddaughter and a playwright and poet, has gone through her family's attic, culling information from letters, journals, and interviews to introduce us to Sargent's handsome society husband, many lovers, suffering children, and loyal friends. Most painfully, she has confronted the legacy of a family haunted by mental illness. Striking just the right balance between personal and professional, Moore places Sargent's life and career in a broader cultural context. In Moore's skilled hands, this portrait of narcissism, illness, and social privilege becomes completely captivating.

Pub Date: March 12th, 1996
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Viking