La Carmencita
John Singer Sargent -- American painter 
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Oil on Canvas
228.6 x 134.22 cm (90 x 54 1/4 in.)
 Jpg: ARC  / Hermes Project

(Click on image to Step Closer)
Carmencita was apparently an very interesting and colorful character, a highly spirited Spanish Gypsy Dancer who performed all over Europe and on the east coast of the United States. Sargent had first met her in 1889 in Paris. When he sees her again, this time in New York, he talks her into letting him paint her. She turned out to be a very difficult sitter for him and had a hard time keeping her still. 

El JaleoWith Carmencita in U.S., John had gone with his old friend and his wife to see her perform in New York. John got excited and wrote Isabella Stewart Gardner whom had fallen in love with John's very passionate Spanish painting El Jaleo which he painted in 1882 and which she now owned as one of her pinnacle art pieces of her collection.  "Could you have her at your house in Fifth Avenue? If so, might I go and see whether the floor or carpet would be good, and whether there is a chandelier against which she would have to break her head. It would have to be about twelve o'clock at night, after the performance," he wrote to her in haste [1] 

The Tenth Street StudioShe agreed and John checked out the room -- it would not do. The performance he hand in mind for her had to be perfect and either through Isabella's efforts or John's the arrangements to hold the party were made with William Merrit Chases' 10th street studio which was, in John's words "a capital big place" [2]. 

John took command of the room, possibly with the help of his sister Violet who was with him. Like a stage manager, they arranged the chairs for Isabella and the other guest, dousing the room lights except for a very deliberate row of low kerosene-lamps in front of his makeshift stage with their shades tilted to shine the flickering fame upward.  When his attention moved to Carmencita's makeup, she became upset by all the fuss that JSS was going through, and it took John's flirting with her to bring her spirits around to a mood for performing. 

Mrs. de glen, then Jane Emmett, was present with her sister, and has described the scene. Sargent whom she had never seen before was seated on the floor. The studio was dimly lighted; at the end of the room was just such a scene as he had represented in El Jaleo. Carmencita, a light thrown on her from below, now withering like a serpent, now with an arrogant elegance, strutted the stage with a shadowy row of guitarists in the background strumming their heady Spanish music. [3]
Carmencita moved with the cadence of the guitars, her skirt flowing, playing to the audience and when she drew near, she threw a rose to her admirer on the shadowy floor behind the lamps. John picked it up, broke the stem short and slid it through the lapel-hole of his jacket. [4] 

La Carmencita (2) 

In Charles Merril Mount biography of Sargent, he speculates that Carmencita may have been a possible lover, but I find this unlikely from what I've learned. What is probably more accurate is that their public flirtations would be just in line with Carmencita's personality and their friendship and not any real indication of a serious romance. 

John, it turns out, wouldn't be the only painter of Carmencita. Both William Merritt Chase and James Beckwith also did portraits of her -- and from the pictures that seen, both appear to be done around the same time. 

This is one of 4 drawings that Harvard has which Sargent did of Carmencita. This face portrait drawing was probably done with her stage makeup still on giving her a more stark appearance close-up. 
Portrait Head of Carmencita  
Sargent at Harvard  
Fogg Art Museum  
Charcoal on off-white laid paper  
30.5 x 20.3 cm (actual)  

La Carmencita (sketch) 
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 

  • 1) Charteris' book p. 111, quoting from W.H. Downes, "John Sargent," p.31, in turn citing H.J. Brock, New York Times
  • 2) John Singer Sargent letter to Isabella Stewart Gardner, undated, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; quoted in Olson's book p. 162, he attributes a date to March
  • 3) Charteris';  p. 111
  • 4) Charteris';  p. 112, quotes Mrs. de Glehn who saw what happen.
  • See the year in review 1890-
  • 1887 thru 1888 when JSS paints Isabella Stewart Gardner
  • El Jaleo
  • Learn more about Flamenco dancing and music
  • Image source: "Non-literary texts: The Spanish Dancer `La Carmencita` ." Literature and Culture  Teaching Database  (文學與文化教學資料庫). 2004.  Hermes Database Project  匯文網資料庫計畫.  22  Dec, 2004 < asp/arts/art.asp?no=31>

Subject: Thomas Edison Filmed Carmencita 
From: Natasha Wallace and Stephanie 
Date: 13 December 2001 

Thomas Edison known for his inventions of the Phonograph, the electric light bulb, and  commercialization of electricity was also a pioneer of  moving pictures. In the late 1880s, Edison came up with the Kinetoscope which gave an individual viewer a 30 - 60 second show based on a silent film loop.  

To make it commercially popular he opened a studio in 1893 to create various little films he could sell as exhibitions for his Kinetoscope. Vaudeville acts and popular dancers were the primary subjects. Of the dancers, some of the notable ones were Chrissie Sheridan, Ella Lola, Annabel Whitford, and the famous Carmencita. In many cases these films were then individually hand colored. 

Many of these films were rather risque, even bawdy, showing the legs of this dancer whom is thought to have been Carmencita, though I (Natasha) personally wonder if it is or not. 

So saith the Edison Art Company website. 

I want to thank Stephanie for sending me this link. 

From: Linda Griggs  
<ld  gri>  
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003  

I just went to the Manet,Valesques show at the Met and saw the footage Edison took of Carmencita.  You were right.  The image on the site isn't her.  In the footage of Carmencita she is wearing the an outfit like Chase and Sargent painted and playing casstinets.  She does a little Jota step and a couple of very strange, cool turns.  It's less like flamenco than it is like Spanish traditional or classical dance.  Based on that footage JS Sargent made her way cooler than she was in real life. 

Probably it's all about the lighting.  

I got all my flamenco friends to come see your site.  We all love it.  And it's really fun to turn people onto Sargent.  



Augustus Saint-Gaudens   
American sculpture (1848-1907)  
Violet Sargent 
William Merritt Chase  
American Painter 

  Created 1999