Sargent attained international prominence as a fashionable society portraitist. In both formal and informal scenes Sargent captured his wealthy clients' physical and psychological natures, the gentility and sumptuousness of the era, and the impression of a fleeting moment.

In this portrait, the disposition of the elongated figure is natural and straightforward, seen in three-quarter view, with her head turned inquisitively, as though she might have walked immediately into this position and looked at Sargent. The personality of Madame Poirson is suggested by the aloofness of her gaze and the icy blue color of the background.

In 1883 John Singer Sargent rented a studio owned by Paul Poirson. According to family history, this portrait of Poirson’s wife was executed in lieu of rent payment. Sargent’s friendly relationship with the Poirsons made this work more personal than the business action might suggest.
Artist John Singer Sargent, American, 1856-1925
  • Madame Paul Poirson
Date 1885
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Unframed: 60 × 34 inches (152.4 × 86.4 cm)
Framed: 78 inches × 52 inches × 4 1/4 inches (198.1 × 132.1 × 10.8 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase with funds from Mr. and Mrs. Richard A. Manoogian, the Beatrice Rogers Fund, Gibbs-Williams Fund and Ralph Harman Booth Bequest Fund
Accession Number 73.41
Department American Art before 1950
On View American W292, Level 2 (see map)
Signed Signed and dated, upper left: John S. Sargent 1885
John Singer Sargent;
the sitter, Seymourina Cuthbert Poirson;
her daughter-in-law, Madame Charles Poirson;
until 1972, her son, Gerard Poirson;
until 1973, Newhouse Galleries;
1973-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Le Décor de la Vie sous la 3ème Republique de 1870 a 1900. Exh. cat., Le Palais du Louvre, Pavillion de Maison. Paris, 1933, p. 38, no. 301.

Autour de 1900. Exh. cat., Le Galerie Charpeutier. Paris, 1950, no. 155.

Mount, Charles Merrill. John Singer Sargent: A Biography. New York, 1955, pp. 91, 430.

McKibbin, David. Sargent’s Boston. Boston, 1956, p. 116.

Mount, Charles Merrill. John Singer Sargent: A Biography. London, 1957, pp. 112, 339.

John S. Sargent 1856-1925. Exh. cat., Le Centre Culturel Americain. Paris, 1963, no. 13.

Mount, Charles Merrill. John Singer Sargent: A Biography. New York, 1969, pp. 91, 448.

Ormond, Richard. John Singer Sargent: Paintings, Drawings, Watercolours. London, 1970, p. 33.

Curry, Larry J. “Madame Paul Poirson: An Early Portrait by Sargent.” Bulletin of the DIA 51 (1972): pp. 97-104 (ill.).

Rivard, Nancy J. “American Paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts.” Antiques 114, 10 (Novemeber 1978): pp. 1044-1055 (ill.).

John Singer Sargent and the Edwardian Age. Exh. cat., Lotherton Hall, Leeds Art Galleries. London, 1979, p. 36, no. 18 (pl. 3).

Ratcliff, Carter. John Singer Sargent. New York, 1982, pp. 93-94 (pl. 129).

100 Masterworks from the Detroit Institute of Arts. New York, 1985, pp. 204-205 (ill.).

Olson, Stanley. John Singer Sargent: His Portrait. London, 1986, p. 100.

Henshaw, Julia, ed. The Detroit Institute of Arts: A Visitor’s Guide. Detroit, 1995, p. 78 (ill.).

Ormond, Richard and Elaine Kilmurray. John Singer Sargent: The Early Portraits (Complete Paintings, Vol. 1). New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 104, 127 (ill.).