Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Crawley Sisters of "Downton Abbey": The Living Sargent

I recently read the excellent news that Downton Abbey, the hit British period drama, has been renewed for its fifth season, even though here in the States its fourth season is two months short of release. While I certainly greatly anticipate the coming season on Masterpiece on PBS, I hadn't really thought about Downton until recently. Because, as you well know, I'm in a John Singer Sargent mind I began attempting to view Downton through a Sargent-point of view. Which, as I'm sure you can surmise, is not to hard. Some of Sargent's most famous portraits are of the Edwardian aristocracy; among whose members the fictional Crawley's would not doubt be part of. And while countless aspects of Sargent's work can be applied to Downton, in specific, I found one similarity which I found fairly interesting.
The Achenson Sisters
John Singer Sargent (1902)
Sargent painted quite a number of beautiful group portraits of sisters, mother and daughters, etc, and therefore, if in fact the Crawley's inhabited real history, he would have no doubt painted them, posed in a unique Sargent pose. I've always been vaguely amused how merely suggesting that a group of women would be posed together in a Sargent-like manner conjures up a very clear image. I remember once reading it in a Patrick Dennis book and was stunned how easily I pictured his description of a group of sisters, all with the simple Sargent analogy.

The Misses Hunter
John Singer Sargent (1902)
Downton clearly tries to evoke the graceful, elegant times that Sargent so aptly captured in his paintings. In various publicity stills of the Crawley Sisters (Mary, Edith, and Sybil) posed together, you can see vague similarities to some of Sargent's paintings. While I rarely believe in coincidences with art and film, the similarities here are vague at best and thus I believe it is partially through my Sargent mentality that I see what I see. But certainly the beauty of the subjects, the costumes, and the various poses, do seem faintly reminiscent of Sargent. If the photographers intended this, they did a very subtle job of it. If they did not, they certainly managed to capture the feelings of the times, artistically at least, very well.
The Wyndham Sisters
John Singer Sargent (1897)

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