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When John Singer Sargent paused his portraiture for a game of bowls

a painting of a small group of edwardians, including a chap wearing a deerstalker playing bowls near a large manor house

A Game of Bowls, 1889, by John Singer Sargent.

An ‘experimental’ painting by John Singer Sargent heads back home – to the place where it was painted

A Game of Bowls, by American painter John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925), has been acquired for the National Trust’s Ightham Mote in Kent following a successful campaign to raise funds to purchase it.

The large-scale canvas depicts a scene at the 14th century moated manor house in 1889, when its American tenant at the time, Mary Lincoln ‘Queen’ Palmer and her daughter Elsie, were enjoying a game of bowls on the North Lawn.

The assembled ladies and a man in tweeds wearing a rather fetching deerstalker, included Singer Sargent’s sister Violet; all of them seemingly ‘rugged’ against the early evening – or perhaps early morning – cold.

Measuring over two metres wide, the monumental painting has been on loan to the National Trust property as part of a current John Singer Sargent exhibition and is said to be an example of Sargent in his ‘experimental mode’.

a photo of a moated manor house seen in summer

The south east corner with the cottages in the background at Ightham Mote, Kent.

A large-scale landscape in the English manner, it is certainly painted in a defiantly modernist French style. Due to its size it was clearly composed with an exhibition in mind, and it appeared in Joe Comyns Carr’s New Gallery the year after it was painted. As with some of his previous pictures, it was deemed as ‘eccentric’ or even ‘under the influence of French styles’.

Although Sargent went on to become renowned for his Edwardian society portraiture (he was already well on his way to becoming the great master of fin de siècle luxury and decadence via portraits like ‘Madame X‘) he was at this time a friend and protégé of Claude Monet and was dabbling with what might be termed the British avant-garde.

When not in his studio he spent much time painting ‘en plein air’, outside in the English countryside and went on to produce a fine body of outdoor paintings in locations across Europe.

“a record of a place and its occupants at a particular moment in history”

During his stay at Ightham he also reverted to his day job and painted a portrait of ‘Queen’ Palmer’s daughter, Miss Elsie Palmer. Sadly, Queen, who was the wife of American civil engineer and industrialist William Jackson Palmer and who was in England for her health, didn’t live long to really enjoy either painting – she died in England on December 27, 1894 at the age of 44.

Describing the opportunity to bring the exceptional picture back to the place where it was painted as “too good to miss” Richard Ormond, art historian and great nephew of John Singer Sargent, says it as “a record of a place and its occupants at a particular moment in history. It is strong in atmosphere and character and is a remarkable work of art.”

The painting became available for a private sale brokered by Sotheby’s and the necessary funds were raised thanks to funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, who donated £175,000, and the Art Fund, who donated £100,000. A further £75,000 was raised thanks to the generosity of visitors and supporters of Ightham Mote.

The John Singer Sargent exhibition is at Ightham Mote until the end of October 2018.


Superb 14th-century moated manor house: * See the results of the Trust's largest ever conservation project * Tudor chapel with hand-painted ceiling * Grade I listed dog kennel * Lovely gardens, with lakeside and woodland walks, in a secluded valley

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