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 autumn of 1910.

The work is significant in that it possesses a marked Impressionist feel in technique and execution for a Sargent oil on canvas work. According to corresponding letters and journal entries, Sargent was known to be interested in and experimenting with his own study of Impressionism at the time. For example, he wrote that Impressionism was the name “given to a certain form of observation when Monet, not content with using his eyes to see what things were or what they looked like as everybody had done before him, turned his attention to noting what took place on his own retina (as an oculist would test his own his own vision). It led to his doing 50 pictures of the same subject under varying degrees of light and the phenomena which he recorded would be more or less apparent when there was excess or deficiency of light.” Sargent also produced a second work of the same scene, Villa Torre Galli: The Loggia, and scholars have noted the Impressionist feel of the series – one seemingly takes place in the morning, at breakfast, the other in the afternoon with the decidedly more warm hues and colours. It may only be two paintings of the same location, but in many respects, they form a series not often seen in Sargent’s artwork.

The Breakfast In The Loggia oil painting made its way to America in 1894, when Charles Lang Freer visited Italy and its famous villas and gardens, as recommended by his good friend Charles Adams Platt (Platt would also later design the Freer Gallery of Art). According to the official Smithsonian website, the trip strengthened Freer’s admiration for Italian Renaissance architecture and may have influenced his decision to buy this painting in 1917. Whatever the reason, the gallery officially notes that the Breakfast in the Loggia epitomises the majesty of a Florentine villa on a bright autumn morning. We couldn’t agree more – all the oil paintings need a nice still life added in of smoked salmon and eggs Benedict. Yummy!