John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
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John Singer Sargent was one of the most successful and gifted artists of his time. Though he is generally considered an American painter, Sargent was in fact born in Florence, Italy to American expatriate parents and spent most of his life abroad, particularly in Paris and London. He initially studied art in Italy and Germany but received some of his best training in Paris under the famous painter Carolus-Duran.
Although he only spent a year of his entire life in America, some of his best work was created there including portraits of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and decoration for the Boston Public Library. He also painted a well known series of portraits of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson.
Sargent was highly influenced by the work of Diego Velazquez and his work is often compared to the great master by art critics. Sargent is perhaps best known for his highly expressive portraits set in interesting landscapes and backgrounds and his portrayals of exotic beauties.
One portrait in particular, “The Portrait of Madame X” portrays the striking image of a socialite and was Sargent’s favorite, but was misunderstood in his time. When it was unveiled in the Paris Salon of 1884, it was met with great negativity and Sargent moved to London shortly thereafter out of apparent shame. The apparently arrogant stance, stark white shoulders and overall drama created in this portrait of the 23 year old Gautreau was too shocking even for a fashionable French audience.
Sargent secured a number of wealthy patrons in Paris as well as London, most notably was the Pailleron family.
Just as Sargent was a resident of the world, his painting style and techniques were also varied. He cannot be easily defined into one category of painting, though he dabbled in Impressionism with his “Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood.”
Hints of Impressionism can also be seen in his portraits later on, like this one of the artists’ sister:
Sargent would probably be best described as a Realist/Impressionist, though he is truly in a class of his own. In a time when the world was becoming infatuated with Cubism, Fauvism and Impressionism, Sargent stayed true to the type of Realism that he enjoyed painting. He worked in nearly every medium on paper from oil painting to charcoal and watercolor and created numerous portraits, sketches, genre pieces and in his later years, landscapes and sculpture. It is said that after 1907 he created very few portraits, mostly focusing on other artistic endeavors in his later years.
Sargent became friends with a number of prominent artists of the day, in particular Paul Helleu. Sargent painted Helleu and his wife several times throughout their lifelong friendship.
Throughout his career Sargent managed to be a very prolific painter, leaving nearly 1,000 oil paintings, more than 2,000 watercolors and countless charcoals and sketches behind.
More than 500 of these paintings were portraits, mainly of his wealthy patrons. Sadly, his bold style of contemporary Realism wasn’t widely considered revolutionary during his lifetime and was all but dismissed. He has since been realized as one of the greatest masters of his era and appreciation for his art has been steadily on the rise.
Today most of Sargents’ work is housed in public and private collections in America and Europe, and perhaps in your own home. Still wondering about a family heirloom portrait in your possession? Contact us…it could be by John Singer Sargent.