10 OCTOBER 2021



John Singer Sargent was born on 12 October 1856 to American parents in Florence, Italy. He was educated in France. Sargent had a deep admiration for the art of Diego Velézquez and Frans Hals. He visited Madrid and Haarlem, the Netherlands to see their work in person.

His Paris art teacher Charles-Auguste-Émile Carolus-Duran (1837-1917) encouraged Sargent to paint directly on the canvas without preparatory sketches. Sargent, nevertheless, excelled at draftsmanship and his sketches are prized today. Sargent studied at Carolus-Duran’s studio from 1874-6.

Sargent, Woman with Bow (ca. 1887) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Sargent was best known as a society portraitist. Sargent’s exhibit in Paris of a portrait of Madame Gautreau (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) caused an uproar. It was considered erotic. The painting was exhibited with the title Madame X, but everyone knew who the sitter was. The sitter’s mother implored Sargent to withdraw the painting, which she said damaged her daughter’s reputation. Shortly afterward, Sargent moved to London where he was also a successful portrait painter. As evident from the piece below, Sargent was a gifted watercolorist.

Sargent, Madame Gautreau (Madame X) (ca. 1883) watercolor and graphite on paper, Fogg Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

In the 1890s, he was sufficiently financially independent that Sargent stopped taking portrait commissions.

At the end of his life, Sargent lived in the United States where he worked on murals depicting allegories. The murals are at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Boston Public Library. Sargent died in 1925.

Sargent, Firelight (ca. 1875) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.