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Portraits of an Artist

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  71 ratings  ·  20 reviews
From 1882 to 1884, John Singer Sargent painted his greatest masterpieces-the Daughters of Edward Darley Boit and Madame X-haunting portraits with dark psychological depths. The first unconsciously revealed a secret that would cause great anguish in his private life; the other created a social scandal that drove him from Paris forever. Portraits of an Artist brings to life ...more
Paperback, 326 pages
Published February 20th 2013 by Sand Hill Review Press (first published January 30th 2013)
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3.89  · 
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 ·  71 ratings  ·  20 reviews

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Bardi Rosman Koodrin
Feb 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: friends, colleagues, public at large
Portraits of an Artist by Mary F. Burns is a fascinating peek into the life of American artist John Singer Sargent at the height of his fame, and infamy.

The setting of this historical novel is Paris, the grand City of Lights circa 1882-84.

The story revolves around Sargent and his efforts to vie for juried admission to the Salon's annual exhibitions during its golden age of artistry and world prominence.

Whereas Singer was internationally touted for his mastery of portraiture, Burns portrays th
Colin Sargent
Dec 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What would it be like to join John Singer Sargent’s intimate circle of friends and lovers–just as he rocks the Salon in Paris with his remarkable Portrait of Madame X?

After bringing some of Sargent’s private portrait subjects (painted between 1881 and 1884) to life as her cast of characters, Mary F. Burns deploys them in a vivid psychological mystery that flickers from Florence to Venice and Paris and sizzles through events in Sargent’s haunted, and sometimes reckless, romantic life that have
Melanie Spiller
Sep 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this. I wanted to like it, because I know Mary F. Burns, and because I like fiction about art, and because I like learning about artists, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I honestly did like it.

Mary captures the different personalities, giving each their own voice as she works her way through a few portraits. She kept me curious about what Big Bad Thing was going to happen to besmirch John Singer Sargent's name, and although I often find multiple viewpoints to be distractin
Elizabeth Felt
Jul 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An incredible transformation occurred while I read this book. At first, the pictures on the cover and at the beginning of each chapter were merely portraits of people I didn't know. But as I read the story, and learned about the lives of the people being painted, the portraits changed. They were no longer people I didn't know, they were acquaintances, and I studied their faces and frozen gestures and learned more about them. And as I read, I began to know them and care about them. When I'd finis ...more
Ciji Ware
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For art lovers and fans of John Singer Sergeant, this novel gives amazing insight to one of the world's best known portraitists--who actually preferred landscape painting. Art History majors, take note!
Feb 06, 2013 marked it as to-read  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
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Katharine Ott
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Portraits of an Artist" - written by Mary F Burns and published in 2013 by Sand Hill Review Press. This book is an interesting approach to getting to know a historical figure, painter John Singer Sargent. Burns has assembled the good friends and family of Sargent and imagined their interactions with him in short episodes, especially when related to several of his well-known portraits. The 1880s were a heady time for artistic and literary figures, Sargent was in Paris for most of the book, and I ...more
Craig Masten
Apr 28, 2018 rated it liked it
The format of this novel, told through chapters from the point of view of various friends of Sargent who he had painted is a novel one (pardon the pun). Well written and ably researched in its general portrayal of the characters, it is perhaps top heavy in its speculations about their romantic attachments, and really doesn’t give me a much deeper sense of the somewhat mysterious and private personality of Sargent himself. Most of all though, the book suffers what to me is a fatal flaw in histori ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book quite a lot. The characters are distinctly drawn, with individual, convincing voices. My main quibble is that there a quite a few typos which distract from what is an otherwise very enjoyable book.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A multitude of ex-pats and European characters tell the story of the rise and fall of Sargent's art career during which he painted nearly 3000 works.
Michael Llewellyn
Apr 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
There's never anything really new in the publishing world, but Mary Burns offers a refreshing spin in "Portraits of an Artist" about John Singer Sargent. In an inspired sort of reverse reveal, the artist's subjects look at him and create their own studies in a series of telling vignettes. Each is accompanied by a thumbnail photo of their portrait to remind you who's talking. Time, place and personalities are impeccably researched and richly served as Burns exploits the incomparable ambience of l ...more
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Received this excellent book as Goodread winner. Mary Burns perfectly captures the world of salons, suppers and soirees where a celebrity was a painter, poet or writer. John Singer Sargent is brought to life through the eyes of his close circle of friends and fellow artists but more importantly by his sitters and models. Because of the immediacy of images of ourselves available now through modern technology we cannot imagine what it must have been like to have a portrait revealed for all to see, ...more
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
I won this in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway...thank you Goodreads! This is not the kind of book I would normally read. Although I like historical novels, I usually avoid what I refer to as "European society novels" that take you to English country houses or upper-crust society gatherings, and such things. They usually bore me, but this novel was about an artist, and I love art, so I thought I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did, because I enjoyed it. It was a slow start for me, but once I got cau ...more
Carole Cornell
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read Portraits of an Artist for a book club that is mainly about art. I liked it very much because, even though it's historical fiction, I felt I know much more about John Singer Sargent than I previously did. I love many of his paintings so this was a pleasant experience. I also liked the author's technique of writing in the first person from multiple points of view. It gave voice to the people surrounding JSS and gave a more complete picture of him.

And as most historical fiction does (for me
Yves Fey
Feb 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Mary Burns’ subtle and evocative ronde follows several of the subjects of John Singer Sargent’s portraits as they muse on their relationship with the elusive artist. The cleverly constructed story ebbs and flows in its intensity, but is always fascinating as the vignettes interweave in a mysterious dance. The elegant prose captures the era, the challenges of the artist’s work, and the pining hearts of many of the subjects with equal ease. Finally Sargent himself remains something of an enigma wh ...more
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Portraits of an Artist is a charming waltz through the life and times of painter John Singer Sargent. Burns weaves history and fiction together seamlessly and we get glimpses of the painter through his subjects. I've always loved the Boit sisters, those little girls scattered like orphans across a darkened room. Burns answers the why. I was captivated and transported. Hated for the book to end.
Steve Atkinson
Mar 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable read. Short easy chapters which are almost short stories in themselves and allow us to get know John Singer Sargent through the eyes and voices of the people who knew him best, his family friends and painting subjects. I found it an original premise to learn about one of the worlds best painters.
Stephanie Renee
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this novel. It's characters are witty with original voices. The whole novel is well-written.
Laura Lee
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent! John Singer Sargent's portraits come to life. It's the buildup of Sargent's Madame X portrait. I loved it.
Sara Barker
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Mary Burns’ debut historical novel J-THE WOMAN WHO WROTE THE BIBLE was published in July 2010 by O-Books (John Hunt Publishers, UK). Ms. Burns is a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and a member of the HNS Conference board of directors. Her second novel, PORTRAITS OF AN ARTIST about the 19th century portrait artist John Singer Sargent, was published by Sand Hill Review P ...more
“I want to paint something that no one has ever painted before," he was saying. I almost laughed at that -- doesn't every artist? We are all touched, however lightly, by the finger of god, and long to be gods ourselves, bringing forth new creations, and yet, so very few achieve it. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Titian. We stumble in their footsteps, and wait at the closed door.” 1 likes
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