Sheffield has an incredible visual arts collection thanks to two key benefactors: John Ruskin, who in the 19th Century compiled it for the creative and educational good of workers in the city (the Ruskin Collection is now housed at Millennium Gallery), and J.G. Graves, who cared about the city’s future common wealth and donated artworks, buildings and parks.
Donated artworks in their hundreds are now cared for by Museums Sheffield, including pieces by Picasso, JMW Turner, and American painter John Singer Sargent – the artist behind The Misses Vickers, a group portrait of three sisters in Bolsover Hill. Funnily enough it was voted worst picture of 1886 at the Royal Academy, and Sargent himself said, "I am to paint several portraits in the country and three ugly women at Sheffield, dingy hole."
Ironically, it turned out to be one of his best and one of Sheffield’s most popular paintings: a modern depiction of three modern, pretty Sheffield women – a cinematic, tense, and chiaroscuro (both light and melancholic) masterpiece. From the broad dismissal of an avant-garde work and the misjudgement of an industrial city, we can take The Misses Vickers as a shining example of beauty fizzing beneath the surface.
The Misses Vickers is currently on display at Weston Park Museum. It's one of our top 3 Sheffield artworks.
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