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Patron and painter: The friendship of Deering and Singer Sargent

An exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago highlights a connection between the preeminent portraitist of the early 20th Century and Charles Deering, the Northwestern benefactor whose memorial library is an iconic building on campus.

Charles Deering, by John Singer Sargent, 1917

Charles Deering, by John Singer Sargent, 1917

John Singer Sargent and the Gilded Age,” which runs through Sept. 30, tells the story of the American-born painter whose best known portraits depict the wealthy families of the Edwardian Age. Though Singer Sargent relocated to Paris for much of his career, he had numerous Chicago connections that are highlighted by the Art Institute exhibit.

Among those connections is Charles Deering, a patron and friend of Singer Sargent.  A 1917 portrait of Charles Deering in Miami, his winter home, is on display in the exhibition. As an executive of International Harvester and scion of a company founder, Deering had the means to pursue his art collecting interests — through which he became a patron, and even a friend, of many artists.

(In addition to his patronage of Singer Sargent, Deering also developed a similar warm relationship with Ramon Casas, the Spanish artist whose sketchbook contain a number of images of him traveling with Deering. That sketchbook is held by the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections and is available digitally.)

Mrs. Dorothy Allhusen, by John Singer Sargent, 1907

In 1956, the Deering family donated to the Libraries a Singer Sargent portrait owned by Charles. The portrait of Mrs. Dorothy Allhusen underwent a full restoration, thanks to a grant from The Alumnae of Northwestern University and was briefly on display in 2016 before being placed in climate-controlled storage in preparation for a renovation of Deering Library.