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 the Americas Win: what it aims to do is take the online viewer on a chronological journey that shows the history of the Americas, from far north to South, through the artworks of artists such as Mary Cassatt, John Singleton Copley, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Wifredo Lam and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Ann and Graham Gund Director of the Museum Malcolm Rogers said they were especially pleased to introduce this feature online. “Families, students, and museum lovers (will now have) a new way to experience for free one of the world’s finest collections of American paintings in a format that will be regularly added to and updated as new information is entered into our database.” As you may appreciate, one of the biggest revenue makers for museum and galleries is their collection: by lending out and displaying it during exhibitions, institutions can charge entry fees and generate more fees through speeches, talks and merchandise sales. Therefore, any decision to offer free and online content hurts the bottom line – which what makes the MFA’s decision that much more impressive.
The MFA supports diverse scholarship and innovative design, elements of which can be seen in their extensive publications on Singer Sargent. The museum published the e-books Sargent’s Daughters: The Biography of a Painting (2009) by Erica E. Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of Paintings in the Art of the Americas at the MFA, which explores the genesis of one of the Museum’s great iconic works, and also an ebook on The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882) another famous John Singer Sargent painting. Other PDFs and publications include Sargent’s Murals, which was originally published in 1999 after it was co-authored by Carol Troyen, Pamela Hatchfield, and Lydia Vagts. The book was noteworthy in its examination of the famous murals Sargent created for the MFA’s rotunda and colonnade in the early 20th century, and the subsequent restoration process that was undertaken by the MFA in 1999.
Still can’t get enough of Sargent paintings and associated information? Well, look out for the upcoming paper catalogue and e-book version to complement Sargent’s Watercolors (final title to be announced), an exhibition jointly sponsored by the MFA and Brooklyn Museum, which will open at the MFA in the fall of 2013. The publication will feature Sargent expert Erica E. Hirshler and her essay on Sargent’s watercolors, which contextualise them in their overall relationship to his oil paintings and 20th-century watercolor practice. Other contributors are Antoinette Owen, Senior Paper Conservator at the Brooklyn Museum, and Annette Manick, Head Conservator, MFA, Boston; Richard Ormond, Director, John Singer Sargent Catalogue Raisonné; Teresa A. Carbone, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art and Karen Sherry, Associate Curator of American Art, all names that point to a quality publication.