Jacques Barenton from artrenewal.org
I have traveled across the country today and am so tired I can hardly function. But I will manage a short post. There has been some ongoing discussion about this head I posted recently. It is evidently a young boy. In the 19th century young boys were sometime dressed in skirts and costumed similarly to their sisters. Evidently until puberty they weren't thought of as particularly male. I poked around the net and found many references to this painting as Jacques. So, it must be that this little dandy is a boy. I'll bet he got pushed around a lot at the skate board park.
On the other hand, this is Violet Paget, or Vernon Lee, her pen name.
Violet or Vernon is rather ambiguous about her gender too. There is something androgynous about this head . She was a friend of Sargent and also Henry James. A writer and aesthetic theoretician, Violet-Vernon was a lesbian and often dressed as a man. I love this head, it is one of my favorites of Sargent's less formal studies.
There has always been question about Sargent's sexuality. He painted the erotic male nude above, and the fetching Egyptian girl below with equal attention if not lascivious interest. He was linked to at least one woman and it is suggested that he perhaps had male lovers as well. The truth is either concealed or unknown. Perhaps he himself was open to morphological variation. I have no idea where the truth may lie, but it is certain that he never married and was at best ambiguous about his preferences. There was a fashion in those days for men to suppress their sexuality with the intent of funneling that energy into their art. He may only have been intensely private about his affairs.
I don't feel I need to know, in order to enjoy his art, but there does seem to be a pattern of androgynous sitters and male nudes that border on the homoerotic.