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An individual’s lifestyle is often dictated by his/her perceived position in society. Wealth, beauty, age, and family heritage also factor into artistic representation. Mrs. Goetz, featured in the portrait by John Singer Sargent, must have had an entirely different sense of self than Ruth Pontico featured in Baby Ruth. While both of these women are on display for public consumption, they are from different eras and are presented in different circumstances. How do these paintings deal with perceived societal expectations of women?

John Steuart Curry (1897–1946) Baby Ruth

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William H. Child


John Singer Sargent (1856–1929) Mrs. Edward Goetz

Purchased with funds provided by Jack R. and Mary Lois Wheatley


Hidden image


Because Baby Ruth’s appearance is antagonistic to societal expectations of acceptable weight and size, she is ostracized and becomes an object of display and ridicule. Ironically, she is simultaneously supported and exploited by the societal norms that she challenges.

Both Mrs. Goetz and Baby Ruth have offered themselves up for display and invite the gaze of viewer. The former flaunts her esteemed status in society while the other resents yet capitalizes on her own rejected status.

Both of these women are outside the norm of what is considered ideal beauty; one woman is large and the other is old. In a society that glamorized the vitality and enticements of youth, Sargent’s skill in making the elderly Mrs. Goetz appear graceful and inviting is uncommon.