Elsie Palmer has been on the lam almost 18 months.
OK, the subject of John Singer Sargent’s popular 1890 portrait “The Young Lady in White” technically has been dead for way more than 100 years, so she can’t really be on the run from the law. But the painting, arguably one of the most famous works at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, has been missing from the walls of the museum.
“It will be more than a year and a half by the time she gets back,” said Joy Armstrong, FAC’s curator of modern and contemporary art. “We have felt her absence profoundly. People make a special visit to see Elsie. We’ll be happy to welcome her home.”
Singer’s portrait of the 17-year-old daughter of Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer has been on loan to Ightham Mote, an English estate in Kent, England. The estate put together an exhibit on the Palmers and their time in England as part of a campaign to raise money to buy another significant Sargent painting, “A Game of Bowls.”
“This is the manor home where the Palmers lived for a short while while itinerant throughout England, and where the portrait of Elsie was painted,” said Armstrong. “It was painted in the manor. She is seated in front of a gorgeous wood paneling you can still see.”
Not only will Elsie’s portrait be reinstalled in the Dickinson Gallery, but it also will be the centerpiece of a larger exhibit, “P.S. I Love You: A Portrait of Miss Elsie Palmer.” It opens Saturday and runs through March 17.
The collaboration between the FAC, Glen Eyrie (the famous English Tudor-style castle Palmer built for his wife, Mary Lincoln “Queen” Mellen Palmer) and Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum will feature dozens of Elsie Palmer-related artifacts, including letters, diary entries, locks of hair, travel trinkets, items from Glen Eyrie such as roof shingles and doorknobs, and other paintings.
“They help complement her and paint a bigger picture,” said Armstrong. “We’re trying to be careful about not having too much conjecture, not telling stories about Elsie or imagining scenarios not backed up by primary sources.
“We know these things are hers. We don’t know the specific story behind them, but it’s fun to set that scene.”
JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM