"Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" by John Singer Sargent (1882)

As described by Kimberly M. Radek, women of the nineteenth century were stereotypically “passive”, “timid”, “pure”, and “content” (Radek). Men had lawful rights over their wives, and women were expected to be solely dependent on their husbands (Radek). During the 1800s, it was fashionable for women to have tiny waists, so in order to do so, they would wear corsets. Eventually, it was discovered that corsets deformed a women’s waste line and lungs, making it harder to breathe (Radek). Uncomfortable sacrifices like this were made to become "beautiful". Daughters of Edward Darley Boit was painted by John Singer Sargent during this era of feminine plainness and physical beauty. The subject, Edward Darley Boit, was an impressionist artist, himself, and Sargent and Boit were good friends. Evan Charteris described Sargent to possess "such authority, such anxious sincerity...so much humor and finesse" (Charteris). Women were treated the same and expected to act with a certain feminine poise in accordance to the commands of this kind of male 'authority' (Charteris) in their lives (Radek).

In the painting, Boit’s four daughters are all neatly dressed in similar plainly colored dresses. This idea of wearing matching, similar clothing demonstrates the lack of individuality. Because the clothing is so plain and bland, it also references the idea of the female being 'pure' and not having or fulfilling any sexual desires (Radek). The daughters are all motionless, and with the exception of one, blankly staring towards the audience. It is obvious that the daughters are discontent by their dissatisfied facial expressions. Emotionless and bored, the daughters seem tired of their routine activities. Even the youngest daughter, whom is playing on the ground with a doll, doesn’t show any traces of a smile. Also demonstrated by the youngest daughter, girls were expected to only do very specific, acceptable things (Radek). Playing with dolls was acceptable because it was considered feminine (Radek) and normal, and did not cause them to exercise their thinking. For a woman in the nineteenth century, physical beauty and attractiveness definitely stood superior to the substance of their character. The daughters were taught to act and dress similarly, not revealing any sense of personality or individuality (Radek). They concealed their emotions and opinions within them to avoid controversial thoughts and exploration of their individual self (Radek). The gray and dark color scheme adds to the plain and emotionless mood of the painting.

An ideal woman acted in accordance to the values set in place by society; to be respectful, to please one’s family/husband, to listen and not challenge anything, and to do what they were told (Radek). Boit's daughter's were unable to say anything about their discontent because it would interrupt their duty to become an ideal, “beautiful” woman. A beautiful woman was one who embodied these nineteenth-century values and behaved obediently, like the daughters, at the same time as maintaining an attractive body and favorable disposition. Since these women were not encouraged to let their personalities shine through, there was not much more to judge them by then their looks. Success came to women based on attractiveness, and accordingly, good-looking, obedient women were the ones who became successful and married into wealthy families. One's attractiveness was only determined by physical beauty and cooperation.

Charteris, Evan. John Sargent. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2010. Print.
Lee, Vernon. "John Singer Sargent's Daughters of Edward Darley Boit." John Singer Sargent Virtual Gallery. Web. < "http://www.jssgallery.org/Paintings/Daughters_of_Edward_Darley_Boit.htm">.
Radek., Kimberly M. "Women in the Nineteenth Century." IVCC » Home Page Transition Page. 2001. Web. <"http://www2.ivcc.edu/gen2002/Women_in_the_Nineteenth_Century.htm">.

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