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John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was America's most technically brilliant portrait painter. His work profoundly influenced his generation.

Born on Jan. 20, 1856, in Florence, Italy, of American parents, John Singer Sargent spent the greater part of his life in Europe but made frequent short visits to the United States. His father was a doctor from Gloucester, Mass.; his mother, who came from Philadelphia, preferred Continental life and persuaded her husband to give up his medical practice. Sargent was a born artist, very precocious, and fortunate in having his mother's encouragement. At the age of 9 he was sketching animals at the Paris Zoo. In 1868-1869 he worked in the studio of Carl Welsch in Rome, then attended school in Florence and took courses at the Accademia delle Belle Arti.

In 1874 the family settled in Paris, and Sargent worked at the École des Beaux-Arts, but in October he entered the studio of Carolus-Duran, a skillful portrait painter. In 1876 Sargent made his first trip to America, to establish his American citizenship. In 1877 he exhibited a portrait of Miss Watts, his first appearance at the Paris Salon. After an early period of realism he went through an impressionist phase, as seen in the two versions of Luxembourg Gardens at Twilight (1879). His most brilliant early portrait was of Mrs. Charles Gifford Dyer (1880). The tragic beauty of the face shows the artist's intuitive faculties. The Pailleron Children (1880) shows great sophistication and an almost Jamesian sinisterness. His great early success, more liked by fellow artists than by critics, was the Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, shown at the Salon of 1883. Four little girls are placed asymmetrically in a composition as remarkable for its subtle balances as for its luminous effect.

Sargent's most daring and brilliant portrait, known as Madame X, was of Madame Gautreau, one of the most elegant and fashion-conscious beauties of Parisian society. He painted her standing, wearing an extremely lowcut evening gown, and he made effective use of the contrast of her white skin with the black dress. When the picture was shown at the Salon of 1884, the public as well as her family were shocked, and Sargent was forced to withdraw it. Largely because of this, he left Paris and established himself in London, where he remained for the rest of his life.

In the mid-1880s Sargent painted two portraits of Robert Louis Stevenson, both brilliant, spontaneous, and sensitive portrayals of this frail and talented man. In 1887 Sargent went to America to paint the Marquands and a stark and commanding portrait of the austere matriarch Mrs. Adrian Iselin. By 1890 he was so firmly established that all the peeresses and notables of England clamored for the privilege of having him do their portraits. In 1898 Asher Wertheimer, a famous London art dealer, commissioned him to paint all the members of his family. One of the finest of this group is the portrait of Mrs. Wertheimer, which is elegant and impervious but facile and penetrating. His portrait of the great beauty Lady Sassoon, dressed in the highest fashion, is sparkling and vivacious and a technical tour de force. Although he painted men less often than women, one of his most dashing achievements was of Lord Ribblesdale in riding costume. The Duchess of Devonshire, the Duchess of Sutherland, the Countess of Warwick, and dozens of others were all painted with the same facile elegance. He also did groups such as the Marlborough family, the Sitwell family, and the Wyndham sisters.

Some of Sargent's greatest accomplishments were in watercolor, which he undertook mostly during summer trips to the Tirol, Italy, and Spain. These works are transparent, luminous, and brilliantly executed. In 1890 he was commissioned to do murals for the Boston Public Library (completed in 1916), the finest of which is the series of prophets. In 1916 he executed murals for the rotunda of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He died in London on April 15, 1925.

Further Reading

Biographies of Sargent include W. H. Downes, John S. Sargent (1925); Frederick A. Sweet, Sargent, Whistler and Mary Cassatt (1954); and Charles Merrill Mount, John Singer Sargent (1955). See also David McKibbin, Sargent's Boston (1956).

Additional Sources

Fairbrother, Trevor J., John Singer Sargent, New York: Abrams, 1994.

Olson, Stanley, John Singer Sargent, his portrait, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986.

Ratcliff, Carter, John Singer Sargent, New York: Abbeville Press, 1982.

Weinberg, H. Barbara (Helene Barbara), John Singer Sargent, New York: Rizzoli International: Distributed by St. Martin's Press, 1994. □

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Sargent, John Singer

John Singer Sargent, 1856–1925, American painter, b. Florence, Italy, of American parents, educated in Italy, France, and Germany. In 1874 he went to Paris, where he studied under Carolus-Duran. He remained there for 10 years except for visits to the United States, Spain, and Africa. From his first exhibit in the Salon of 1878 he received early recognition, and by 1884, when he moved to London, he already enjoyed a high reputation as a portrait painter. He spent most of the remainder of his life there, painting the dashing portraits of American and English social celebrities for which he is famous. For a considerable period of time, Sargent was the world's best-known and most highly paid portrait painter. In 1890 he was commissioned by the architect Charles McKim to paint a series of murals, The History of Religion, for the Boston Public Library. He completed them in 1916.

An untiring and prolific painter of great facility, Sargent was particularly brilliant in his treatment of textures. In his portraiture he showed great virtuosity in his handling of the brushstrokes, quickly capturing the likeness and vitality of his subject. His portraits nearly always flattered his sitters; he remarked upon this once, saying his was a pimp's profession. During his youth, and again after 1910, he deserted portrait painting long enough to produce a large number of brilliant impressionistic landscapes in watercolor, many of them painted in Venice and the Tyrol. Of these, fine collections are in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Brooklyn Museum. His portraits and figure pieces are housed in many private and public collections in England and the United States. Well-known examples are the portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner and El Jaleo (Gardner Mus., Boston); the portraits of Madame X, the Wyndham sisters, Henry Marquand, and William Merritt Chase (Metropolitan Mus.); The Fountain (Art Inst., Chicago); and Children of E. D. Boit (Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston). During the late 1990s and early 2000s Sargent was subject to wide-ranging critical reappraisal, provoking a renewed appreciation for his work.

See E. Kilmurray and R. Ormond, ed., John Singer Sargent: The Complete Paintings, (3 vol., 1998–2003); biographies by P. Hills (1986), S. Olson (1986), T. J. Fairbrother (1994), and E. Kreiter and M. Zabludoff (2002); studies by T. J. Fairbrother (1986 and 2000), E. Kilmurray, ed. (1998), C. Little and A. Skolnick, ed. (1999), C. Ratcliff (2001), and B. Robertson, ed. (2003).

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Sargent, John Singer

Sargent, John Singer (1856–1925). American painter who settled in England and became the outstanding portraitist of his time. Born in Italy, Sargent studied there and in Paris, where he became a good friend of Monet. A scandal surrounding his portrait Madame Gautreau caused him to leave Paris in 1884/5. He settled in London where he remained until his death, although he visited the USA frequently and retained his citizenship. His portraits of high society brought him great success and he was elected ARA in 1894, RA in 1897. After about 1907, he took few commissions; he travelled and concentrated on water-colour landscapes as well as some mural paintings in America. He was an official war artist during the First World War and his powerful Gassed hangs in the Imperial War Museum.

June Cochrane

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Sargent, John Singer

Sargent, John Singer (1856–1925) US painter. Greatly influenced by Diego Velázquez and Frans Hals, Sargent is best known for his glamorous and elegant portraits, such as The Boit Children (1882) and Lord Ribblesdale (1902).

http://www.mfa.org

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