In 1916, John Singer Sargent met Thomas Eugene McKeller, a young African-American elevator attendant, at Boston’s Hotel Vendome. McKeller posed for most of the figures—both male and female—in Sargent’s murals in the Museum of Fine Arts. The painter transformed McKeller into white gods and goddesses, creating soaring allegories of the liberal arts that celebrated the recent expansion of the city’s premier civic museum.
Displayed together for the first time, the drawings provide a window into the metamorphoses of race, gender, and identity, and attest to a relationship between two men, artist and model, at a time of intense social upheaval. This exhibition brings together Sargent's drawings and related historical materials to tell the story of McKeller’s life. His central importance in Sargent’s major artistic commissions in the Boston area considers critical questions of race, class, and sexuality—as relevant today as they were in Gilded Age Boston.
Boston's Apollo is one of three exhibitions opening this season—along with Elements of Me and The Strange Taxi, Stretched. Each explore race and representation, while delving into black and brown lived experiences to expand the story of American Art.