Portraits of an Artist by Mary F. Burns


I first met Mary F. Burns when she presented a literary workshop at the 2009 San Mateo County Fair.  She is a bright personable woman who writes engaging historical novels, one of my favorite genres.  Her first, J–The Woman Who Wrote the Bible, came out in 2010.  Now she is launching  Portraits of an Artist, published by Sand Hill Review Press.

No one asked me to write a review of the story behind noted American artist John Singer Sargent.  I volunteered after developing a crush on Sargent, and staying up way past my bedtime to finish this compelling read.  And it’s true, after finishing this novel, I still really miss John and the rest of his artist friends.

Sargent in his Paris studio

Sargent in his Paris studio

Sargent's self-Portrait-small

Mary, do you have a sequel in mind?  Please!

Here is the link to my review featured on goodreads.com

Portraits of an Artist by Mary F. Burns is a fascinating peek into the life of American artist John Singer Sargent at the height of his fame, and infamy.

The setting of this historical novel is Paris, the grand City of Lights circa 1882-84.

The story revolves around Sargent and his efforts to vie for juried admission to the Salon’s annual exhibitions during its golden age of artistry and world prominence.


Whereas Singer was internationally touted for his mastery of portraiture, Burns portrays the artist behind his brush strokes as a pleasant albeit insecure man who would rather direct attention onto his subjects rather than his own life.

Singer never married; he and his close friends ignored whispered rumors about his sexual preferences.

Mary F. Burns addresses the question all of us who have ever viewed two of Singer’s most noted portraits have asked:

What is the story behind that which we can see?

Why is the eldest of the four girls in “Daughters of Edward Darley Bolt” shown in a shadowy profile and set away from her sisters?


Why did the behind the scenes drama surrounding his painting, “Madame X” ignite a scandal that threatened to ruin his reputation?


Burns is such a convincing novelist her readers will assume every storyline in Portraits of an Artist is historically accurate.

Many of her readers will no doubt develop a crush on John Singer Sargent, as did I.

Some will postpone their bedtimes to read “just one more chapter.” I actually missed John and the people in his story after finishing this compelling read!

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