Miss Flora M. Sargeant of Brattleboro and Her Posings---
the Model for Sculptures in the Congressional Library.
The illustrated section of the Boston Journal of last Sunday contained as its frontispiece a full-page portrait of Miss Flora M. Sargeant, "Boston's leading artist model." Miss Sargeant is a Brattleboro girl, daughter of N. W. Sargeant, one of the long-time employees of the Estey Organ company. In addition to the large portrait the Journal contained a smaller one of Miss Sargeant in street dress, and also a two-column article in regard to her work, from which the following quotations are made:
Though Miss Sargeant has been in Boston but a few years, she has become indispensable to many of the leading artists, and she has now more orders for sittings than she can find time for, though she poses a great deal evenings. It is not only her face and figure, but her intelligent and patient maintenance of difficult poses that has enabled her to get ahead of models who have been in studios so much longer. She lives in the pleasantest of homes with her friends and goes about very little.
Personally, she is a very attractive, stylish girl, who seems to be about 21 years old. "No, I am more than that. I am 23," she said, naively, when there was a guess made of her age; "and not in the least diffident about telling anybody so who cares to know." It is her magnificent long hair that a stranger would note first about her. It is such a head of hair as one seldom sees. Emma Eames Story may have another as beautiful, but that is doubtful. She parts it in the middle and combs it over her forehead in a wavy carelessness that adds greatly to her beauty. Her hair is a great point in her favor with artists, as it reaches below her knees when she is standing. Another characteristic that is prized by artists as being rare in models is the whiteness of her skin. She poses for the figure, and is without a peer in Boston for beautiful contour and gracefulness.
To name the artists or their paintings for whom Miss Sargeant has posed would be to give a very long list, but a few will perhaps be of interest. For Henry Sandham whe has done a great deal of posing, particularly for his large classes. Abbott Graves's "June" is probably one of the most striking nudes recently painted in Boston. For this she was the model, as also for "The other side," one of Mr. Graves's noted pictures. De Camp's "Gold fish," that attracted so much favorable attention at the last Art club exhibition, was painted from Miss Sargeant. Edmund C. Tarbell's recent study of her is one of the best canvases this distinguished artist has painted for some time. Pratt, the sculptor, is working on his designs for the Congressional library, and is using Miss Sargeant as a model, particularly for the hands and arms. She has also posed considerably for Churchill, and more or less for all the leading artists of the city. Peixotto, the Parisian portrait painter, has had her pose for him a great deal since he has been in town.
Miss Sargeant lived for a while in Gardner, Mass., and it may interest those who misunderstand the life of a model to state that she is a member of the Congregational church there. Rev. Laurence Phelps, the brother of the authoress, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, was pastor of the church and considered Miss Sargeant a valuable assistant in his church work.
One interesting feature of this pretty model's work is her success with ladies. Any model will agree that posing for a woman is infinitely less agreeable than posing for a man. Women are more inclined to be curt and rude to models. But Miss Sargeant is almost a craze in the Back Bay portrait classes, and the artistic young ladies of the aristocratic families have become attracted to her, and she numbers many of them as her warmest friends. She also poses for the various art schools, and it can fairly be said that for portrait and figure work no model in the city is considered more popular. Of course, certain figures are needed for certain poses, but no model has more orders than Miss Sargeant.
"Each morning I am anxious to get to the studio" she said, in the jolly, wholesome fashion in which she always talks, "and I never fail to find something interesting in the work of the artists for whom I pose. Now, today, I had a very hard pose to keep for almost two hours. I had to stand on one foot, with my arms at length before me. So tonight I am tired. But I read a little, retire early, and when the morning comes I shall be glad to take even the very hardest pose again. It is a profession with me, of course, but I like it and enjoy any kind words an artist may say about my being able to pose steadily and intelligently. Now that I pose professionally, I want to be just as successful as I possibly can.
"Yes, a model has to do lots of odd things. It is not all posing in studios. She has to be photographed in all possible positions for various artists who want studies for the arms, possibly, or for the neck and shoulders. Then, there are the lithographic companies that want skilled models to illustrate their various processes of engraving. Sometimes we have to have casts made of our arms or ankles, and that is not a pleasant process.
"Not long ago I had a peculiar pose. An artist came to me and said that a theatrical manager wanted him to draw a foot that would pass for Trilby's. In the play Little Billee has to draw it on the atelier wall, and of course not many actors are artists. So this artist was engaged to sketch the foot lightly on the scenery, so the player could simply draw heavily over the lines. 'Trilby?' No, I cannot agree with the principle about models which the book seems to make prominent."
Flora Maria Sargeant was the daughter of Nathan Wallace and Marie Antoinette Good Sargeant, and the great great-granddaughter of Col. John Sargeant of the old Fort Dummer days. Her father worked as a mechanic, stencilman, laborer, and carpenter, mostly for the Estey company. Flora was born on August 27, 1871 and grew up on the Brook Road.
Flora Sargeant worked for the portraitists Joseph Rodefer DeCamp, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Abbott Graves Fuller, William Worcester Churchill, Ernest Clifford Peixotto, Henry Sandham and the sculptor for the Library of Congress, Bela Lyon Pratt.
Before she married John S. Roberts, Flora lived on Newbury Street between Clarendon and Dartmouth Streets, and later moved to the South End neighborhood of Boston at 2 West Canton Street. She died following a truck accident in Boston on September 22, 1949.
Flora refers to Trilby O'Ferrall, the heroine of George du Maurier's bestseller Trilby (1894). Trilby the grisette and model falls under the domination of the cruel hypnotist, Svengali, and eventually perishes. Flora disagrees with du Maurier. But domination by male artists may have been a sensitive matter for Flora, and her interviewer indicates "Those who misunderstand the life of a model", who equate modelling with selling one's virtue.