John Singer Sargent Blog

Sargent paintings shine in new online catalogue


Feb 28 2012 08:55PM | by Staff Editor

John Singer Sargent was arguably one of America’s finest painters during the late 1800s and early 1900s: labelled the leading portrait painter of his generation, he was also adept at painting watercolours and other oil paintings, as evidenced in his numerous landscapes and studies. His work is widely spread and as such it is sometimes hard to find a definitive gallery or museum exhibition that one can attend. It is with great relief, then, that we bring news of a new online catalogue that will not only feature a great amount of John Singer Sargent oil paintings, but also an equally impressive amount of literature and academic work that sheds light on the man and his artwork. All this and more from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and their new online and free digital publication. The publication is split into many different sections, but the first section has been called Paintings of the Americas, which analyse more than 400 paintings from the 17th to 20th centuries. To be fair, the online catalogue will cover more than 2000 other artists, but for now we’ll just focus on Sargent paintings. The catalogue was produced to complement the Museum’s own Art of... Read more

Breakfast at Tiffany’s? No, breakfast at the Loggia


Dec 27 2011 09:13AM | by Staff Editor

American expat painter in Europe John Singer Sargent was best known for his portraiture – works like Madame X, Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, President Theodore Roosevelt, Portrait of Miss Eliza Wedgewood and Dr. Samuel Jean Pozzi are just some of the famous and noted oil paintings the artist completed. Hence, it is refreshing once in a while to study works he completed largely in the Impressionist vein as studies of light and painting in plain air, or en plein air, as the French creators would call it. One premier example of Sargent’s study in light can be seen in the oil painting Breakfast In The Loggia, 1910, and now currently at the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. The oil on canvas work features Lady Richmond, wife of Sir William Blake Richmond, the artist known for his mosaics in London’s St Paul’s cathedral, and Jane de Glehn, a part-time model and friend of Sargent who also featured in his oil painting, The Garden Wall. The actual location of the painting is the Villa Torre Galli at Scandicci on the outskirts of Florence, where Sargent stayed with a party of friends during the... Read more

A Carnation, Lily, Lily and Rose


Dec 25 2011 09:06PM | by Staff Editor

Next time you’re at a trivia night and the question is along the lines of “John Singer Sargent masterpiece, four words, associated with flowers/famous song”, rest assured and lock in Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. The renowned oil on canvas work was completed from 1885-6, set in a garden in the Cotswolds village of Broadway, where John Singer Sargent stayed in the summer of 1885. The artwork depicts two children, Dolly (left) and Polly Barnard, lighting Japanese lanterns with tapers at dusk; their father was the illustrator Frederick Barnard, a close friend of Sargent’s. This was one of the rare works that Sargent completed in “a plain air” manner working outdoors: he wanted to capture the exact level of light and so he turned to the impressionist method. As with everything Sargent did, his approach to Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose was methodical. Dozens of preparatory sketches of the two girls in various postures were made, many later painted so that details such as their hair colour were exactly the same as they appeared in the oil painting. He also completed at least five oil studies in preparation for the final canvas: according to the experts, the variation in the canvas sizes... Read more

Americans in Venice and Sargent paintings, part II


Nov 27 2011 07:10PM | by Staff Editor

In our last post we noted with a decidedly Italian sense of fascination the influence of the great artistic nation on the relatively uncultured and young Americans. One artist to be heavily influenced by the Italian masters was John Singer Sargent, whose paintings reflect many scenes of famous and not so famous Italian landmarks. One such recent example was the sale this month of his watercolour painting, The Piazzetta with Gondolas (circa 1903). The Sargent painting is a lively and energetic case of his Venice paintings from his nearly annual visits from 1898 to 1913, reflecting his unrelenting love for, and attraction to the great Italian city. The painting is well known because Sargent painted it from an experimental vantage point: a gondola, which allowed him to capture the dazzling tones famous in his watercolour paintings. Although this painting is not included in the Americans in Florence exhibition, many other great paintings are. Our last post stopped at part one of the blockbuster exhibition, which naturally leads us to consider Section two, titled Americans in Florence. For portrait and self-portrait fans, this represents every artist’s most sordid wet dream: dozens of high quality oil paintings from the likes of Singer... Read more

John Singer Sargent paintings and the American Impressionists


Nov 21 2011 11:20AM | by Staff Editor

We’re confident to say that next year, 2012, will be one filled with some exhibitions to die for. Well, perhaps not literally, if only because you wouldn’t be able to visit any more exhibitions. One such example is Americans in Florence: Sargent and the American Impressionists on view at Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy, from March 3 to July 15, 2012. The show is designed to mark 500 years since the death of Amerigo Vespucci, the noted Italian explorer, navigator, cartographer and financier, of whom the Americas are generally believed to have derived their name from the feminine Latin version of his first name. Thus the show will focus on the strong ties linking the Old World and the New, as shown through Sargent paintings and the American Impressionists. Italians are proud to acknowledge the history between America and Italy, particularly the visits American artists paid to Florence and other cities in Tuscany after the American Civil War till the start of World War One. Besides the obvious cultural and architectural differences, the Americans were also taken aback by the appeal and variety of the landscape, which was markedly different from the American countryside, despite the obvious difficulties of such a... Read more

John Singer Sargent paintings, and haunting


Oct 30 2011 11:23AM | by Staff Editor

Someone call the Ghostbusters – there’s something strange and it is in the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood, to be exact, was expatriate American painting John Singer Sargent and his studio at 31 Tite Street, Chelsea, England. According to historical sources at the Archives of American Art, Sargent was encouraged to move to England by American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, whom Sargent had met while he was still a student. In 1886 Sargent moved to the same studio and apartment which Whistler had just moved out from. He maintained the studio until his death in 1925… and some say into the beyond. While there are literally thousands of Sargent paintings existing in the market today, only a few photographs of his studio remain. We’d suggest a quick google image search to discover them before reading on about the haunting of this property. The first recorded instance of this haunting occurred in an Associated Press article from July 18, 1927, which was reproduced in many of American’s newspapers. The belief was that the ghost of Sargent was haunting the studio, with his footsteps heard often by another American artist friend and his wife, Alfred Orr, who took over the apartment 16 months... Read more

Sargent’s expansive oeuvre


Oct 18 2011 10:21AM | by Staff Editor

As Wikipedia (and other more authoritative sources) will tell you, John Singer Sargent is predominately renowned as the American artist without peer when it comes to painting portraits of the Edwardian era luxury. For those who wonder what the equivalent of this would be, think of Goldman Sach bankers employing Sargent to paint portraits of themselves, their wives, family or friends. But Sargent was more than just a portrait painter. He was also extremely skilled in watercolours and sketching and in many ways, these two worlds overlapped with each other. In this post we hope to illuminate more of these links, starting with an examination of a famous Sargent painting, the portrait simply titled Mrs. Hugh Hammersley. The oil painting in question was completed in 1892 and measures a sizeable 205.7cm by 115.6cm. Currently owned by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the subject is Mrs Hammersley (née Mary Frances Grant), the wife of a banker. Mrs Hammersley was also known as a fashionable and well liked hostess, and that aspect is important when studying the painting. Firstly, she is lightly perched on a stylish French sofa. Her gold-trimmed silk and velvet dress literally shimmers on the canvas, as does... Read more

Sargent painting Madame X just too damned popular


Sep 18 2011 07:40PM | by Staff Editor

It is not often that your moment of triumph also turns to your moment of downfall. For John Singer Sargent, displaying his portrait of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau at the 1884 Paris Salon was exactly that moment. Mrs Gautreau was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became infamous in Parisian high society for her beauty, rumoured infidelities and social climbing skills. Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent, one of a few requests he ever made. Although initially turned down, both the subject and the artist saw it as a chance to announce their arrival onto a bigger stage in the world, or at least continental Europe. It worked in many ways for both of them. Madame X has proved the inspiration for two notable bands (of the Funk and Glam Metal genres), at least three Broadway musicals, and 12 movies from 1910 to 2000. It immortalised them, but for perhaps the wrong reasons. The most popular rendition of the Madame X oil painting has been its transformation onto the silver screen. the movies are as follows (in chronological order): Madame X (1910 film), Madame X (1916 film) starring Dorothy... Read more

Sargent paintings: A day in the life of Venice


Sep 04 2011 10:00PM | by Staff Editor

Ask the average person who John Singer Sargent was, and what type of painting he was well known for, and you’d likely hear that he was famous for his portraits. Yes, Sargent portraits are certainly in a class or their own, and they were undeniably the primary source of the man’s reputation and wealth. But Sargent was also an immensely skilled painter of landscapes and set scenes, using both oils and watercolours. One country, and in particular city, always fascinated Sargent: Italy, and Venice. Through his many years of travel Sargent would come to paint many scenes of Venice, providing a series of neat Sargent paintings in a near modern-day documentary effect. Street in Venice is just one example of a classic Sargent Venetian streetscape. The foreboding and moody Venetian Doorway is another example, while Venetian Workshop offers the viewer an enthralling glimpse into the everyday life of Venetians. Furthermore, Sargent produced hundreds of watercolours of Venice, most of which have been highly praised by critics. The watercolours are predominately painted from the perspective of a gondola, with the use of colours so vivid that famous art scholar Carl Little noted “everything is given with the intensity of a dream”.... Read more

Singer Sargent and Don Manuel Garcia, a singer


Aug 08 2011 09:46AM | by Staff Editor

Being your contemporary age’s premier portraitist meant you undeniably met many famous people – a perk of the job, along with the fat pay cheque. Among one of John Singer Sargent’s less well known sitters, but famous in his own right, was Don Manuel Garcia. What the? Just who was this man? Yes, many Sargent paintings contained industrial barons to two former presidents of the USA. Manuel Garcia, though, equally has a fascinating tale to tell. Don Manuel Garcia was an oil painting completed in 1905. Currently owned by the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, USA, the oil on canvas artwork measures 138.1 x 96.5 cm, or 54 3/8 x 38 inches. Quite large, and equally impressive for a man who is credited with inventing the laryngoscope. Yes, Garcia was a man of many talents. Born Manuel Patricio Rodriquez Garcia in Spain, Garcia was also a noted musician and vocal instructor whose timely invention was the result of his interest in the diseases of the throat and vocal cords. He spent most of his professional life in London, where he was considered the leading vocal trainer and opera teacher of his day. He eventually married and had three daughters,... Read more

Poetry and Sargent’s Daughters of Edward Darley Boit


Jul 24 2011 10:05PM | by Staff Editor

We’re always a bit surprised whenever we read interesting snippets about how oil paintings have inspired artists from other genres. Especially when a seemingly innocuous painting, such as John Singer Sargent’s Daughters of Edward Darley Boit spawns a shortlisted poem for Scotland’s most prestigious poetry prize. So who is the poet, what is the poem about, and what in the sweet name of haggis is the Edwin Morgan international poetry competition? Let’s start with the basics. The Edwin Morgan competition is held annually in Scotland, with the winner traditionally announced at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which will be held on August 17 this year. There’s a £5000 prize for the top poet; this year, more than 2000 poems were submitted by 900 poets from around the world. Of those, five female finalists have been shortlisted and one poem by Jane Yeh piqued our interest. Titled “FOUR SISTERS: SARGENT’S THE DAUGHTERS OF EDWARD D. BOIT” it summaries what an academic would need a 20 page paper to write: the genius of Sargent’s artistic capability to capture the personalities and psychologies of his portrait subjects. Let us quote selectively from Yeh’s poem, which can be found in full here. Before you... Read more

Singer Sargent and the Grand Central Art Galleries


Jul 11 2011 11:45AM | by Staff Editor

It’s not often in the history of art that painters themselves start up galleries. Sure, they are happy to have their work exhibited in the hope of making a sale – but to actually get physically, emotionally and financially involved? That demanded a lot of time and effort, and not many artists could afford either. But John Singer Sargent was different – having already amassed a fortune from his portraits, the American expatriate painter now looked to spread the importance of American art in the USA. Sargent, together with other prominent artists such as Walter Leighton Clark and Edmund Greacen, among others, would found the Grand Central Art Galleries in 1922. The galleries were in fact the exhibition and administrative space of the not-for-profit group the Painters and Sculptors Gallery Association, of which the aforementioned painters were also founding members. As his personal contribution Sargent invested $5000, a fair sum given it was the early 1920s. The galleries first home was on the sixth floor of the Grand Central Terminal, where it stayed for 29 years. At its official 1923 opening the galleries were the largest of its kind in the world: its nine exhibition spaces measured 1400 sq metres... Read more

John Singer Sargent: Outside the Frame


May 24 2011 11:08AM | by Staff Editor

If you are reading this sentence, chances are you’re a fan of the painter John Singer Sargent. And with good reason: the man was a sublime talent who left the world hundreds of oil paintings, watercolours and drawings that were as insightful as they were beautiful. For the art enthusiast who might struggle to introduce his or her friends and family to art in general, we’d urge you to consider renting or buying a copy of the one hour documentary, John Singer Sargent: Outside the Frame. It is a superb doco that provides the perfect beachhead into the painter’s life and works. While many consider Sargent a great American painter, he was in fact born in Italy and only visited the United States for the first time when he was in his late 30s (notably to paint and sell portraits). Nevertheless, the painter retained his American citizenship throughout his life, which has led to this status. The doco, through the use of high-definition photographs, captures all the highlights – be they controversial or not – of his career. Although many critics today pan Sargent for his relatively traditionalist style, the film notes that within portraiture he did indeed push the... Read more

How John Singer Sargent Became a Wartime Painter


May 03 2011 10:16AM | by Staff Editor

By the early 1900s, John Singer Sargent was quite famous. The most prized paintings by John Singer Sargent were portraits. These paintings depicted famous and high-society people in a warm and glowing light. Poses were natural. People were allowed to use props. At times, Singer Sargent included details that weren't flattering to the person being painted, but this was a rare occurrence. Sargent was one of the most famous of the portrait artists, and he was in high demand in both Europe and the United States with portrait commissions coming in from all corners. He secured his reputation as a great American artist through his work with entirely different subject matter. In 1918, Sargent was commissioned to paint a large image depicting cooperation between British and American forces during World War I. Singer Sargent was sent to France to do research, along with the British painter Henry Tonks. While the war was winding up at this time, confrontations were still rampant, and Sargent was in physical danger while viewing the frontlines of battle. As the crew was driving near the end of the day, they came across a scene of soldiers walking in single file. The soldiers had been through... Read more

Famous Dress from John Singer Sargent Painting is Restored


Apr 26 2011 03:26PM | by Staff Editor

Paintings by John Singer Sargent are known for their realism. Sargent believed in capturing people as they truly were, down to their frazzled hair and peculiar clothes. This is just one reason Sargent is considered one of the most talented of all portrait artists. Sargent used such realism in his paintings that it's easy to identify the costumes his sitters wore in their paintings. One such costume, worn for the Sargent painting Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, has recently been restored in England. Ellen Terry was a famous actress in the late 1800s. Known as the "Queen of the theater," she was surrounded by adoring fans wherever she went. This dress, created for her role in 1888, was made from crocheted yarn, embellished with real beetle wings. Terry often wore the dress for her public appearances, and perhaps had one version of the dress combined with a second version made for an understudy. The fabric had torn and softened, and many beetle wings had fallen from the dress over time. Experts painstakingly repaired the holes in the dress using crocheting techniques and yarn that was specially dyed to match the original dress. Beetle wings that had been collected as they... Read more

John Singer Sargent Model is Focus of New Book


Apr 10 2011 05:47PM | by Staff Editor

Edith Sitwell, who famously sat for a John Singer Sargent painting with the rest of her family, is the focus of a new book. "Edith Sitwell: Avant Garde Poet, English Genius." In this book, Richard Green tells the story of Sitwell's childhood and rise to fame. Interestingly, the details of Sitwell's life help to illuminate the paintings of John Singer Sargent. Sargent paintings are often praised for their realism. It has been said that Sargent was able to capture the feelings and the story of a sitter in just a few brushstrokes. Consider the Singer Sargent Portrait of Madame X. The harsh beauty of the model is clearly on display. Her alabaster skin immediately notifies you that this is a woman of leisure, not prone to spending large amounts of time in the sun. Her languid pose and exposed shoulders, speak to her sensuous nature. This painting was so realistic, in fact, that the model's reputation never recovered and she was forced to leave Paris in disgrace. Sitwell appears in a family portrait as a young girl. She stands with her father, brightly appointed in a bright red coat. She looks directly at the viewer with a serene expression. She... Read more