John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent

Infobox Artist
bgcolour = #6495ED
name = John Singer Sargent

imagesize = 270px
caption = "Self Portrait", 1906, oil on canvas, 70 x 53 cm, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
birthname =
birthdate = January 12, 1856
location = Florence, Italy
deathdate = April 14, 1925 (at 74)
deathplace =
nationality = American (United States)
field =
training =
movement =
works =
patrons =
influenced by =
influenced =
awards =

John Singer Sargent (January 12, 1856 – April 14, 1925) was the most successful portrait painter of his era, ["While his art matched to the spirit of the age, Sargent came into his own in the 1890s as the leading portrait painter of his generation". Ormond, page. 34, 1998.] ["At the time of the Wertheimer commission Sargent was the most celebrated, sought-after and expensive portrait painter in the world". [ New Orleans Museum of Art] ] During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings. His oeuvre documents worldwide travel, from Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida.

Early life

Before Sargent’s birth, his father FitzWilliam was an eye surgeon at the Wills Hospital in Philadelphia. After his older sister died at the age of two, his mother Mary (née Singer) suffered a mental collapse and the couple decided to go abroad to recover. They remained nomadic ex-patriates for the rest of their lives. [Stanley Olson, "John Singer Sargent: His Portrait", St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1986, p. 1, ISBN 0-312-44456-7] Though based in Paris, Sargent’s parents moved regularly with the seasons to the sea and the mountain resorts in France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. While she was pregnant, on account of a cholera epidemic, they stopped in Florence, Italy and there Sargent was born in 1856. A year later, sister Mary was born. After her birth, though he longed to return to his practice in Philadelphia, FitzWilliam resigned his post and accepted his wife’s entreaties to remain abroad. [Olson, p. 2] They lived modestly on a small inheritance and savings, living an isolated life with their children, generally avoiding society and other Americans except for art friends. [Olson, p. 4] Four more children were born abroad of whom two lived past childhood. [Trevor Fairbrother, "John Singer Sargent", Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1994, p.11, ISBN 0-8109-3833-2]

Though his father was a patient teacher of basic subjects, young Sargent was a rambunctious child, more interested in outdoor activities than his studies. As his father wrote home, “He is a quite a close observer of animated nature.” [Olson, p. 9] Contrary to his father, his mother was quite convinced that travelling around Europe, visiting museums and churches, would give young Sargent a satisfactory education. Several attempts to give him formal schooling failed, owning mostly to their iterant life. She was a fine amateur artist and his father was a skilled medical illustrator. [Olson, p. 10] Early on, she gave him sketchbooks and encouraged drawing excursions. Young Sargent worked with care on his drawings, and he enthusiastically copied images from the "Illustrated London News" of ships and made detailed sketches of landscapes. [Olson, p. 15] FitzWilliam had hoped that his son’s interest in ships and the sea might lead him to a naval career.

At thirteen, his mother reported that John “sketches quite nicely, & has a remarkably quick and correct eye. If we could afford to give him really good lessons, he would soon be quite a little artist.” [Olson, p. 18] At age thirteen, he received some watercolor lessons from Carl Welsch, a German landscape painter. [Carl Little, "The Watercolors of John Singer Sargent", University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998, p.7, ISBN 0-520-21969-4] Though his education was far from complete, Sargent grew up to be a highly literate and cosmopolitan young man, accomplished in art, music, and literature. [Olson, p. 23] He was fluent in French, Italian, and German. At seventeen, Sargent was described as “willful, curious, determined and strong” (after his mother) yet shy, generous, and modest (after his father). [Olson, p. 27] He was well-acquainted with many of the great masters from first hand observation, as he wrote in 1874, “I have learned in Venice to admire Tintoretto immensely and to consider him perhaps second only to Michael Angelo and Titian.” [Olson, p. 29]


An attempt to study at the Academy of Florence failed as the school was re-organizing at the time, so after returning to Paris from Florence, Sargent began his art studies with Carolus-Duran. The young French portrait artist, who had a meteoric rise, was noted for his bold technique and modern teaching methods, and his influence would be pivotal to Sargent during the period from 1874-1878. [ Fairbrother, p. 13] In 1874, on the first attempt, Sargent passed the rigorous exam required to gain admission to the École des Beaux-Arts, the premier art school in France and there he took drawing classes, which included anatomy and perspective, and gained a silver prize. [Little, p. 7] [Fairbrother, p. 13] He also spent much time in self-study, drawing in museums and painting in a studio he shared with James Carroll Beckwith, who became both a valuable friend and his primary connection with the American artists abroad. [Olson, p. 46] Sargent also took some lessons from Léon Bonnat. [Little, p. 7]

Carolus-Duran's atelier was progressive, dispensing with the traditional academic approach which required careful drawing and underpainting, in favor of the alla prima method of working directly on the canvas with a loaded brush, derived from Diego Velázquez. It was an approach which relied on the proper placement of tones of paint. [Elizabeth Prettejohn: "Interpreting Sargent", p. 9. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1998.] This approach also permitted spontaneous flourishes of color not bound to an under-drawing, and it was markedly different from the traditional atelier of Jean Léon Gérôme, where Americans Thomas Eakins and Julian Alden Weir had studied. Sargent was the star student in short order. Weir met Sargent in 1874 and noted that Sargent was “one of the most talented fellows I have ever come across; his drawings are like the old masters, and his color is equally fine.” [Olson, p. 46] Sargent’s excellent command of French and his superior talent made him both popular and admired. Through his friendship with Paul César Helleu, Sargent would meet giants of the art world including Degas, Rodin, Monet, and Whistler.

Sargent’s early enthusiasm was for landscapes, not portraiture, as evidenced by his voluminous sketches full of mountains, seascapes, and buildings. [Olson, p. 55] However, Carolus-Duran's expertise in portraiture finally influenced Sargent in that direction. Commissions for history paintings were still considered more prestigious but much harder to get. Portrait painting, on the other hand, was the best way of promoting an art career, getting exhibited in the Salon, and gaining commissions to earn a livelihood. Sargent’s first major portrait was of his friend Fanny Watts in 1877, which was also his first Salon admission. Its particularly well-executed pose drew attention. [Olson, p. 55] His second salon entry was the "Oyster Gathers of Cançale", an impressionistic painting of which he made two copies, one of which he sent back to America, and both received warm reviews. [Fairbrother, p. 16]

Early career

In 1879, at age 23, Sargent painted a portrait of teacher Carolus-Duran; the virtuoso effort met with public approval, and announced the direction his mature work would take. Its showing at the Paris Salon was both a tribute to his teacher and an advertisement for portrait commissions. [Prettejohn, page 14, 1998.] Of Sargent's early work, Henry James wrote that the artist offered 'the slightly "uncanny" spectacle of a talent which on the very threshold of its career has nothing more to learn'. [Prettejohn, p. 13, 1998.]

After leaving Carolus-Duran’s atelier, Sargent visited Spain. There he studied the paintings of Velazquez with a passion, absorbing the master’s technique, and in his travels gathered ideas for future works. [Olson, p. 70] He was entranced with Spanish music and dance. The trip also re-awakened his own talent for music (which was nearly equal to his artistic talent), and which found visual expression in his early masterpiece "El Jaleo" (1882). Music would continue to play a major part in his social life as well, as he was a skillful accompanist of both amateur and professional musicians. Sargent also became a strong advocate for modern composers, especially Gabriel Fauré. [Olson, p. 73] Trips to Italy provided sketches and ideas for several genre paintings of Venetian street scenes which effectively captured gestures and postures he would find useful in later portraiture. [Fairbrother, p. 33]

Upon his return, Sargent received several portrait commissions quickly. His career was launched. He immediately demonstrated the concentration and stamina which enabled him to paint with workman-like steadiness for the next twenty-five years. He filled in the gaps between commissions with many non-commissioned portraits of friends and colleagues. His fine manners, perfect French, and great skill made him a standout among the newer portraitists, and his fame quickly spread. He confidently set high prices and even turned down unsatisfactory sitters. [Olson, p. 80]



In the early 1880s Sargent regularly exhibited portraits at the Salon, and these were mostly full-length portrayals of women, such as "Madame Edouard Pailleron" in 1880 (done "en plein-air") and "Madame Ramón Subercaseaux" in 1881. He continued to receive positive critical notice. [Ormond, Richard: "Sargent's Art", "John Singer Sargent", pp. 25-7. Tate Gallery, 1998.]

Sargent's best portraits reveal the individuality and personality of the sitters; his most ardent admirers think he is matched in this only by Velázquez, who was one of Sargent's great influences. The Spanish master's spell is apparent in Sargent's "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit", 1882, a haunting interior which echoes Velázquez' "Las Meninas". [Ormond, p. 27, 1998.] As in many of his early portraits, Sargent confidently tries different approaches with each new challenge, here employing both unusual composition and lighting to striking effect. His most widely exhibited and best loved works of the 1880’s, however, was “the Lady with the Rose’’ ( 1882), a portrait of Charlotte Burckhardt, a close friend and possible romantic attachment. [Fairbrother, p. 40]

His most controversial work "Portrait of Madame X" (Madame Pierre Gautreau), done in 1884, is now considered one of his best works, and was the artist's personal favorite. (He stated in 1915 “I suppose it is the best thing I have done.”). [Richard Ormand and Elaine Kilmurray, ‘’Sargent: The Early Portraits’’, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1998, p.114, ISBN 0-300-07245-7] However, at the time it was unveiled in Paris at the 1884 Salon, it aroused such a negative reaction that it likely prompted Sargent’s move to London. Once again, Sargent’s self-confidence led him to attempt another risky experiment in portraiture—but this time it unexpectedly back-fired. [Fairbrother, p. 45] The painting was not commissioned by her and he pursued her for the opportunity, quite unlike most of his portrait work where clients sought him out. Sergeant wrote to a mutual acquaintance:

“I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think she would allow it and is waiting for someone to propose this homage to her beauty. might tell her that I am a man of prodigious talent.” [Olson, p. 102]

It took well over a year to complete the painting. [Ormand and Kilmurray, p.113] The first version of the portrait of Madame Gautreau, with her famously purging neckline, white-powdered skin, and arrogantly cocked head, featured an off-the-shoulder strap which made the overall effect even more daring and sensual. [Fairbrother, p. 47] He soon changed the strap to try to dampen the furor but the damaged had been done. French commissions dried up and he even admitted to friend Edmund Gosse in 1885 that he contemplated giving up painting for music or business. [Fairbrother, p. 55]

Writing of the reaction of visitors, Judith Gautier observed: "Is it a woman? a chimera, the figure of a unicorn rearing as on a heraldic coat of arms or perhaps the work of some oriental decorative artist to whom the human form is forbidden and who, wishing to be reminded of woman, has drawn the delicious arabesque? No, it is none of these things, but rather the precise image of a modern woman scrupulously drawn by a painter who is a master of his art." [Cited in Ormond, pages 27-8, 1998.] Prior to the Mme. X. scandal of 1884, he had painted exotic beauties such as Rosina Ferrara of Capri, and the Spanish expatriate model, [ Carmela Bertagna] , but the earlier pictures had not been intended for broad public reception. Sargent kept the painting prominently displayed in his London studio until he sold it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1916, a few months after her death.

Before his arrival in England, Sargent began sending paintings for exhibition at the Royal Academy. These included the portraits of "Dr. Pozzi at Home" (1881), a flamboyant essay in red and his first full-length male portrait, and the more traditional "Mrs. Henry White" (1883). The ensuing portrait commissions encouraged Sargent to finalize his move to London in 1886. Notwithstanding the Madame X scandal, there had been talk of his moving to London as early as 1882; he had been urged to do so repeatedly by his new friend, the novelist Henry James, and in retrospect his transfer to London may be seen to have been inevitable. [Ormond, p. 28, 1998.]

English critics were not warm at first, faulting Sargent for his “clever” “Frenchified” handling of paint. One reviewer seeing his portrait of "Mrs. Henry White" described his technique as “hard” and “almost metallic” with “no taste in expression, air, or modeling.” With help from Mrs. White herself, however, Sargent soon gained the admiration of English patrons and critics. [Fairbrother, p. 43] Henry James also took it upon himself to give the artist “a push to the best of my ability”. [Olson, p. 107]

Sargent spent much time painting outdoors in the English countryside when not in his studio. On a visit to Monet at Giverny in 1885, Sargent appropriately painted one of his most Impressionistic portraits, of Monet at work painting outdoors with his new bride nearby. Sargent is usually not thought of as an Impressionist painter, but he sometimes used impressionistic techniques to great effect, and his " work. [Ormand and Kilmurray, p. 151] Though the British critics classified Sargent in the Impressionist camp, the French Impressionists thought otherwise, as Monet later stated, “He is not an Impressionist in the sense that we use the word, he is too much under the influence of Carolus-Duran.” [Fairbrother, p. 68]

Sargent’s first major success at the Royal Academy came in 1887, with the enthusiastic response to ".

His first trip to New York and Boston as a professional artist in 1887-88 produced over twenty important commissions, including portraits of Isabella Stewart Gardner, famed Boston art patron and Mrs. Adrian Iselin, wife of a New York businessman, revealing her character in one of his most insightful portraits. In Boston, he was honored with his first solo exhibition which presented twenty-two of his paintings. [Fairbrother, pp. 70-2]

Back in London, Sargent was quickly busy again. His working methods were by then well-established, following many of the steps employed by other master portrait painters before him. After securing a commission through negotiations he carried out himself, Sargent would visit the client’s home to see where the painting was to hang and would often review a client’s wardrobe to pick suitable attire. Some portraits were done in the client’s home, but more often in his studio which was well-stocked with furniture and background materials he chose for proper effect [Olson, p. 223] He usually required eight to ten sittings from his clients, and he would try to capture the face in one sitting. He usually kept up pleasant conversation and sometimes he would take a break and play the piano for his sitter. Sargent seldom used pencil or oil sketches, and instead went about laying down oil paint directly. [Ormand and Kilmurray, p.xxiii] Finally, he would select an appropriate frame.

Sargent had no assistants and he also handled all the mundane tasks, such as preparing his canvases, varnishing the painting, arranging for photography, shipping, and documentation. For all his efforts, he was commanding about $5,000 per portrait, or about $130,000 in current dollars. [Fairbrother, p. 76, price updated by CPI calculator to 2008 at] Some American clients even traveled to London at their own expense to have Sargent paint their portrait.

Around 1890, Sargent painted two daring non-commissioned portraits as show pieces—one of actress Ellen Terry as Lady MacBeth and one of the popular Spanish dancer La Carmecita. [Fairbrother, p. 79] Sargent was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and was made a full member three years later. In the 1890s, he averaged fourteen portrait commissions per year, none more beautiful than the genteel ["Lady Agnew of Lochnaw"] , 1892. His portrait of Mrs. Hugh Hammersley was equally well-received for its lively depiction of one of London’s most notable hostesses. As a portrait painter in the grand manner, Sargent's success was unmatched; his subjects were at once ennobled and often possessed of nervous energy ("", 1892). With little fear of contradiction, Sargent was referred to as 'the Van Dyck of our times'. [Ormond, page 28-35, 1998.] Although Sargent was an American expatriate, he returned to the United States many times, often to answer the demand for commissioned portraits. Many of his most important works are in museums in the U.S.

Sargent painted a series of three portraits of Robert Louis Stevenson. The second, ".Asher Wertheimer, a wealthy Jewish art dealer living in London, commissioned from Sargent a series of a dozen portraits of his family, the artist's largest commission from a single patron. [Ormond, page 169-171, 1998.] The paintings reveal a pleasant familiarity between the artist and his subjects. Wertheimer bequeathed most of the paintings to the National Gallery. [Ormond, page 148, 1998.]

By 1900, Sargent was at the height of his fame. Cartoonist Max Beerbohm completed one of his seventeen caricatures of Sargent, making well-known to the public the artist’s paunchy and puffed up physique. [Fairbrother, p. 97] [Little, p. 12] Though only in his forties, Sargent began to travel more and to devote relatively less time to portrait painting. His ‘’An Interior in Venice’’ (1900), a portrait of four members of the Curtis family in their elegant palatial home, was a resounding success, though Whistler did not approve of the looseness of Sargent’s brushwork, which he summed up as “Smudge everywhere”. [Fairbrother, p. 101] One of Sargent’s last major portraits in his bravura style was that of Lord Ribblesdale, in 1902, finely attired in an elegant hunting uniform. Between 1900 and 1907, Sargent continued his high productivity which included in addition to dozens of oil portraits, hundreds of portrait drawings at about $400 each. [Fairbrother, p. 118]

In 1907, at the age of fifty-one, Sargent officially closed his studio. Relieved he stated, “Painting a portrait would be quite amusing if one were not forced to talk while working…What a nuisance having to entertain the sitter and to look happy when one feels wretched.” [Olson, p. 227] In that same year, Sargent painted his modest and serious self-portrait, his last, for the celebrated self-portrait collection of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. [Fairbrother, p. 124]

Sargent’s fame was still considerable and museums eagerly bought his works. That year he declined a knighthood and decided instead to keep his American citizenship. From 1907 ["In the history of portraiture there is no other instance of a major figure abandoning his profession and shutting up shop in such a peremptory way." Ormond, Page 38, 1998.] on, Sargent largely forsook portrait painting and focused on landscapes in his later years; Sargent made numerous visits to the United States in the last decade of his life, including a stay of two full years from 1915-1917. [ Kilmurray, Elaine: "Chronology of Travels", "Sargent Abroad", page 242. Abbeville Press, 1997.]

By the time Sargent finished his portrait of John D. Rockefeller in 1917, most critics began to consign him to the masters of the past, “a brilliant ambassador between his patrons and posterity”. Modernists treated him more harshly, considering him completely out of touch with the reality of American life and with emerging artistic trends including Cubism and Futurism. [Fairbrother, p. 131] Sargent quietly accepted the criticism but refused to alter his negative opinions of modern art. He retorted, “Ingres, Raphael and El Greco, these are now my admirations, these are what I like.” [Fairbrother, p. 133] In 1925, soon before he died, Sargent painted his last oil portrait, a canvas of Grace Curzon, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston. The painting was purchased in 1936 by The Currier Museum of Art, where it is currently on display. [Currier Museum of Art, "Grace Elvina, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston" retrieved 4/5/2007 [$170 Currier Museum] ]


During Sargent's long career, he painted more than 2,000 watercolors, roving from the English countryside to Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida, and each destination offered pictorial stimulation and treasure. Even at his leisure, in escaping the pressures of the portrait studio, he painted with restless intensity, often painting from morning until night.

His hundreds of watercolors of Venice are especially notable, many done from the perspective of a gondola. His colors were sometimes extremely vivid and as one reviewer noted, “Everything is given with the intensity of a dream.” [Little, p. 11] In the Middle East and North Africa, Sargent painted Bedouins, goatherds, and fisherman. In the last decade of his life, he produced many watercolors in Maine, Florida, and in the American West, of fauna, flora, and native peoples.

With his watercolors, Sargent was able to indulge his earliest artistic inclinations for nature, architecture, exotic peoples, and noble mountain landscapes. And it is in some of his late works where one senses Sargent painting most purely for himself. His watercolors were executed with a joyful fluidness. He also painted extensively family, friends, gardens, and fountains. In watercolors, he playfully portrayed his friends and family dressed in Orientalist costume, relaxing in brightly lit landscapes that allowed for a more vivid palette and experimental handling than did his commissions ("The Chess Game", 1906). [Prettejohn, page 66-69, 1998.] His first major solo exhibit of watercolor works was at the Carfax Gallery in London in 1905. [Fairbrother, p. 148] In 1909, he exhibited eighty-six watercolors in New York City, eighty-three of which were bought by the Brooklyn Museum. [Ormond, page 276, 1998.] Evan Charteris wrote in 1927:

”To live with Sargent’s water-colours is to live with sunshine captured and held, with the luster of a bright and legible world, ‘the refluent shade’ and ‘the Ambient ardours of the noon.’” [Little, p. 110]

Though not generally accorded the critical respect given Winslow Homer, perhaps America’s greatest watercolorist, scholarship has revealed that Sargent was fluent in the entire range of opaque and transparent watercolor technique, including the methods used by Homer. [Little, p. 17]

Other work

As a concession to the insatiable demand of wealthy patrons for portraits, Sargent dashed off hundreds of rapid charcoal portrait sketches, which he called "Mugs". Forty-six of these, spanning the years 1890-1916, were exhibited at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1916. [ [ John Singer Sargent Virtual Gallery, "Royal Society of Portrait Painters"] ]

Sargent’s largest scale works are the mural decorations that grace the Boston Public Library depicting the history of religion and the false gods of polytheism. [ [ The Sargent Murals at the Boston Public Library] ] They were attached to the walls of the library by means of marouflage.

Upon his return to England 1918 after a visit to the U.S., Sargent was commissioned as a war artist by the British Ministry of Information. In his large painting "Gassed" and in many watercolors, he depicted scenes from the Great War. [Little, p. 135]

Relationships and personal life

Sargent was a life-long bachelor who surrounded himself with family and friends. Among the artists with whom Sargent associated were Dennis Miller Bunker, James Carroll Beckwith, Edwin Austin Abbey (who also worked on the Boston Public Library murals), Francis David Millet, Wilfrid de Glehn, Jane Emmet de Glehn and Claude Monet, whom Sargent painted. Sargent developed a life-long friendship with fellow painter Paul César Helleu, whom he met in Paris in 1878 when Sargent was 22 and Helleu was 18. Sargent’s supporters included Henry James, Isabella Stewart Gardner (who commissioned and purchased works from Sargent, and sought his advice on other acquisitions), [Kilmurray, Elaine: "Traveling Companions", "Sargent Abroad", page 57-8. Abbeville Press, 1997.] and Edward VII. [Kilmurray: "Chronology of Travels", page 240, 1997.]

Sargent was extremely private regarding his personal life, although the painter Jacques-Émile Blanche, who was one of his early sitters, said after his death that Sargent's sex life "was notorious in Paris, and in Venice, positively scandalous. He was a frenzied bugger." [Fairbrother, Trevor "John Singer Sargent: The Sensualist" (2001)ISBN 0-300-08744-6, Page 139, Note 4] The truth of this may never be established. Some scholars have suggested that Sargent was homosexual. He had personal associations with Prince Edmond de Polignac and Count Robert de Montesquiou. His male nudes reveal complex and well-considered artistic sensibilities about the male physique and male sensuality; this can be particularly observed in his portrait of "Thomas E. McKeller", but also in "Tommies Bathing", nude sketches for "Hell" and "Judgement", and his portraits of young men, like "Bartholomy Maganosco" and "Head of Olimpio Fusco". [Little, p. 141] However, there were many friendships with women, as well, and a similar suppressed sensualism informs his female portrait and figure studies (notably "Egyptian Girl", 1891). The likelihood of an affair with Louise Burkhardt, the model for "Lady with the Rose", is accepted by Sargent scholars. [Ormond, page 14, 1998.]


In a time when the art world focused, in turn, on Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism, Sargent practiced his own form of Realism, which brilliantly referenced Velázquez, Van Dyck, and Gainsborough. His seemingly effortless facility for paraphrasing the masters in a contemporary fashion led to a stream of commissioned portraits of remarkable virtuosity ("Arsène Vigeant", 1885, Musées de Metz ; ", upon seeing "The Misses Hunter" in 1902. Ormond and Kilmurray, "John Singer Sargent: The Early Portraits", page 150. Yale University, 1998.]

Still, during his life his work engendered critical responses from some of his colleagues: Camille Pissarro wrote "he is not an enthusiast but rather an adroit performer", [Rewald, John: "Camille Pissarro: Letters to his Son Lucien", page 183. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.] and Walter Sickert published a satirical turn under the heading "Sargentolatry". [Ormond, page 276, 1998.] By the time of his death he was dismissed as an anachronism, a relic of the Gilded Age and out of step with the artistic sentiments of post-World War I Europe. Prettejohn suggests that the decline of Sargent's reputation was due partly to the rise of anti-Semitism, and the resultant intolerance of 'celebrations of Jewish prosperity'. [Prettejohn, page 73, 1998] It has been suggested that the exotic qualities [Sargent's friend Vernon Lee referred to the artist's "outspoken love of the exotic...the unavowed love of rare kinds of beauty, for incredible types of elegance." Charteris, Evan: "John Sargent", page 252. London and New York, 1927.] inherent in his work appealed to the sympathies of the Jewish clients whom he painted from the 1890s on.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in his portrait "Almina, Daughter of Asher Wertheimer" (1908), in which the subject is seen wearing a Persian costume, a pearl encrusted turban, and strumming an Indian sarod, accoutrements all meant to convey sensuality and mystery. If Sargent used this portrait to explore issues of sexuality and identity, it seems to have met with the satisfaction of the subject's father, Asher Wertheimer, a wealthy Jewish art dealer. [Ormond, page 169-171, 1998.]

Foremost of Sargent's detractors was the influential English art critic Roger Fry, of the Bloomsbury Group, who at the 1926 Sargent retrospective in London dismissed Sargent's work as lacking aesthetic quality, 'Wonderful indeed, but most wonderful that this wonderful performance should ever have been confused with that of an artist.' [Prettejohn, page 73, 1998.] In the 1930’s, Lewis Mumford led a chorus of the severest critics, “Sargent remained to the end an illustrator…the most adroit appearance of workmanship, the most dashing eye for effect, cannot conceal the essential emptiness of Sargent’s mind, or the contemptuous and cynical superficiality of a certain part of his execution.” Part of Sargent’s devaluation is also attributed to his expatriate life which made him seem less American at a time when “authentic” socially-conscious American art, as exemplified by the Stieglitz circle and by the Ashcan School, was on the ascent. [Fairbrother, p. 140]

Despite a long period of critical disfavor, Sargent's popularity has increased steadily since the 1950s. In the 1960’s, a revival of Victorian art and new scholarship directed at Sargent strengthened his reputation. [Fairbrother, p. 141] Sargent has been the subject of large-scale exhibitions in major museums, including a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1986, and a 1999 "blockbuster" travelling show that exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the National Gallery of Art Washington, and the National Gallery, London.

In 1986, Andy Warhol commented that Sargent “made everybody look glamorous. Taller. Thinner. But they all have mood, every one of them has a different mood.” Also around that time, critic Robert Hughes praised Sargent as “the unrivaled recorder of male power and female beauty in a day that, like ours, paid excessive court to both.” [Fairbrother, p. 145]

John Singer Sargent is interred in Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, Surrey. [cite web| title =John Singer Sargent | work =Necropolis Notables | publisher =The Brookwood Cemetery Society | url = | accessdate =2007-02-23]

Posthumous sales


In December 2004, "Group with Parasols (A Siesta)" (1905) sold for $US 23.5 million, nearly double the Sotheby's estimate of $12 million. The previous highest price for a Sargent painting was $US 11 million. ["The Age", December 3, 2004 ]

elected works

*Portrait of Madame Edouard Pailleron (1880) [ Corcoran Gallery of Art]
*Portrait of Mrs. Thomas Lincoln Manson Jr. (ca. 1890) Honolulu Academy of Arts
*Portrait of Madame Ramón Subercaseaux (1881) [ Private collection]
*"Dr. Pozzi at Home" (1881) [ Hammer Museum]
*"Lady with the Rose" (1882) [ Metropolitan Museum of Art]
*"The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" (1882) [ Boston Museum of Fine Art]
*Portrait of Mrs. Henry White (1883) [ Corcoran Gallery of Art]
*"Portrait of Madame X" (1884) [ Metropolitan Museum of Art]
* and his wife (1885) [ Private collection]
*Portrait of Arsène Vigeant (1885) Musées de Metz
*"" (1885) [ Tate Collection]
*"" (1885-6) [ Tate Collection]
*Boston Public Library murals (1890-1919) [ Boston Public Library]
* (1888)
* (1889) Paris Museum of Music
*"La Carmencita". Portrait of the dancer Carmencita. Musee d'Orsay, Paris (1890)
*Portrait of Mrs. Hugh Hammersley (1892) [ Metropolitan Museum of Art]
*"Lady Agnew of Lochnaw" (1892) [ National Galleries of Scotland]
* (1895)
* of Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Newton Phelps-Stokes (1897) [ Metropolitan Museum of Art]
*"On his holidays" (1901) [ Lady Lever Art Gallery]
*"Santa Maria della Salute" (1904) Brooklyn Museum of Art
*"The Chess Game" (1906) [ Harvard Club of New York City]
*"Mrs. Louis E. Raphael (Henriette Goldschmidt)" (ca. 1906) Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama
*Portrait of Almina, Daughter of Asher Wertheimer (1908) [ Tate Collection]
* (1917)
* (1925)



* Fairbrother, Trevor: "John Singer Sargent: The Sensualist" (2001), ISBN 0-300-08744-6, Page 139, Note 4.
* Kilmurray, Elaine: " [ Sargent Abroad] ". Abbeville Press, 1997. Pages 57-8, 242.
* Noël, Benoît et Jean Hournon: "Portrait de Madame X" in "Parisiana - la Capitale des arts au XIXème siècle", Les Presses Franciliennes, Paris, 2006. pp 100-105.
* Ormond, Richard: "Sargent's Art" in "John Singer Sargent", page 25-7. Tate Gallery, 1998.
* Prettejohn, Elizabeth: "Interpreting Sargent", page 9. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1998.
* Rewald, John: "Camille Pissarro: Letters to his Son Lucien", page 183. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.

External links

* [ John Singer Sargent] - Gallery of 809 paintings.
* [ "Mrs. Edward Goetz"] at [Brigham Young Museum of Art}
* [ John Singer Sargent Virtual Gallery]
* [ "Sargent at Harvard"] - searchable database by Harvard University Art Museums
* [ "The Sargent Murals"] at Boston Public Library
* [ Sargent] on WebMuseum
* [ John Singer Sargent] - News, biography and works
* [ John Singer Sargent Letters Online at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art]

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  • John Singer Sargent — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Sargent. John Singer Sargent est un peintre américain, né en 1856 à Florence (Italie) et mort en 1925 à Londres. Élève de Carolus Duran et de Léon Bonnat, il étudie à l école des Beaux Arts de Paris. Il est un… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • John Singer Sargent — Selbstbildnis, Öl auf Leinwand, 1906 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • John Singer Sargent — Para otros usos de este término, véase Singer. John Singer Sargent, Frederick Law Olmsted, óleo sobre lienzo, 1895. John Singer Sargent (12 de enero de 1856 – 14 de abril de 1925) fue el retratista con más éxito de su época, así como un pintor… …   Wikipedia Español

  • John Singer Sargent — noun United States painter (born in Italy) known for his society portraits (1856 1925) • Syn: ↑Sargent • Instance Hypernyms: ↑painter * * * John Singer Sargent [John Singer Sargent] …   Useful english dictionary

  • John Singer Sargent — ➡ Sargent (I) * * * …   Universalium

  • Sargent, John Singer — born Jan. 12, 1856, Florence, Italy died April 15, 1925, London, Eng. U.S. British painter. Son of wealthy American parents, he was born in Italy and grew up in Europe, not seeing the U.S. until 1876. Having studied painting in Paris, in 1879 he… …   Universalium

  • Sargent,John Singer — Sar·gent (särʹjənt), John Singer. 1856 1925. American painter known especially for his elegant portraits and watercolor landscapes. * * * …   Universalium

  • Sargent, John Singer — (12 ene. 1856, Florencia, Italia–15 abr. 1925, Londres, Inglaterra). Pintor estadounidense británico. Nacido en Italia en el seno de una acaudalada familia estadounidense, creció en Europa sin conocer EE.UU. hasta 1876. Tras estudiar pintura en… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Sargent, John Singer —  (1856–1925) American painter …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • Sargent — may refer to:urname*Aaron Augustus Sargent (1827–1887), American journalist, lawyer and politician *Alonzo Sargent, American locomotive engineer *Alvin Sargent (b. 1931), American screenwriter *Anneila Sargent (b. 1942), Scottish–American… …   Wikipedia

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