Reviews & Comments

PORTRAITS awarded an Honorable Mention today by the Paris Book Festival! (3 May 2013)

Noah Charney, professor of art history and art crime, has posted an interview with me at his column on ArtInfo. Click here to see it.

Sarah Johnson has posted my guest blog at Reading the Past - click here to see it

“An evocative rendering of the great portraitist, John Singer Sargent, as seen through the eyes of the subjects of his most famous paintings. A tour de force of historical and psychological imagination.”
--Paula Marantz Cohen, author of What Alice Knew, Jane Austen in Scarsdale

John Singer Sargent painted some of the most compelling and psychologically revealing portraits of his day, while remaining an enigma to those who knew him. Burns skillfully brings the subjects of his portraits to life, telling their stories in their own voices as the mystery of who Sargent really is, and the culture that both supported and constrained him, is gradually and artfully revealed.” Laurel Corona, author of Finding Emilie, Penelope’s Daughter, The Four Seasons  

“A group of wealthy, cultivated Americans and Europeans surround the handsome, sensual and secretive rising painter John Singer Sargent—he paints each one and moves on, leaving open questions and altered lives. Set in the Europe of 1882, the writing is richly subtle and each character exquisitely drawn. One hears murmurs behind doors and the truth just beyond the corner until the hearts of two women—one very young and one very beautiful—are broken forever.  In the end of this fascinating novel, however, it is the portrait of the young artist himself, still an enigma, which lingers in the reader’s mind. Wonderful writing!” —Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude & Camille

“John Singer Sargent was brilliant, glamorous, rich, famous—and very private.  Mary  F. Burns’ sensuous, fascinating and highly original novel takes us behind the veil of that privacy by offering a provocative guided tour of some of his wealthy, polyglot portrait subjects. Many of them knew each other, and Burns deftly explores their connections with one another and their tangled relationship to the magnetic but enigmatic artist.  Glittering surfaces reveal surprising secrets in bedrooms and galleries, and you couldn't ask for a better docent as you travel from Paris to Venice to Florence to Nice.  You'll likely never look at Sargent's glorious portraits in the same way again because Burns has given us a new way of appreciating their genius.”

Lev Raphael, author of Rosedale in Love: A Gilded Age Novel

Posted at Jan. 25, 2013:
I recently received an advance review copy of Mary Burns’ upcoming historical novel, PORTRAITS OF AN ARTIST. The novel, which recently won an honorable mention at the New England Book Festival, tells the story of expatriate American painter John Singer Sargent – as seen through the eyes of the men and women who knew him and modeled for his paintings.
Short review: Highly recommended.
Longer review: I found the novel’s premise intriguing, even though I didn’t think I had ever heard of John Singer Sargent.  However, I quickly realized I had seen one of the paintings on the cover – the enigmatic ‘Portraits d’Enfants’ – on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I was drawn to the painting when I saw it at the MFA, and found Burns’ novel equally intriguing.
Burns “paints” a picture of John Singer Sargent, and controversies that plagued his life and his painting career, through the eyes of his subjects – the women (and men) who loved him (and often wished he loved them equally in return). The novel’s various narrators have unique and distinctive voices, and Burns’ choice to reveal Sargent through multiple narrative eyes gives the novel a multi-dimensional element that adds to the reading experience.
I won’t spoil the read by telling you about the details – and the scandals – the story reveals, or the specific ways it sheds light on Sargent’s inscrutable exterior. But if you’re a fan of art or historical fiction – whether or not you know Sargent’s work – I think you’ll find this novel both interesting and very much worth the read.


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