John Singer Sargent (American, Florence 1856–1925 London)
Oil on canvas
36 × 28 1/2 in. (91.4 × 72.4 cm)
Not on view
American actor Joseph Jefferson (1829–1905) was best known for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle on stages in Australia, Europe, and the United States. After forty years of playing the role, one critic noted at his death, "He was Rip, and Rip was he." Sargent, however, chooses to depict Jefferson in another celebrated but much lesser known role, the elderly pedant Dr. Pangloss in the comedic play The Heir at Law. One theater critic described Jefferson’s performance of the satiric figure as "full of nervous vitality and mental sparkle, and of a humour deliciously quaint and droll." Sargent’s portrait conveys the eccentricity of the character with his wild hair and slightly manic gaze, leaning forward in his chair with alert energy.