John Singer Sargent
Overview
John Singer Sargent was an American artist, considered the "leading portrait painter of his generation" for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury. 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.

An American expatriate who was trained in Paris prior to moving to London, Sargent enjoyed international acclaim as a portrait painter, though not without controversy and some critical reservation; an early submission to the Paris Salon
Paris Salon
The Salon , or rarely Paris Salon , beginning in 1725 was the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. Between 1748–1890 it was the greatest annual or biannual art event in the Western world...

, his Portrait of Madame X
Portrait of Madame X
Madame X or Portrait of Madame X is the informal title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau. The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society...

 was intended to consolidate his position as a society painter, but it resulted in scandal instead.
Unanswered Questions
Quotations

Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend.

Quoted in Bentley and Esar, Treasury of Humorous Quotations (1951)

Encyclopedia
John Singer Sargent was an American artist, considered the "leading portrait painter of his generation" for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury. 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.

An American expatriate who was trained in Paris prior to moving to London, Sargent enjoyed international acclaim as a portrait painter, though not without controversy and some critical reservation; an early submission to the Paris Salon
Paris Salon
The Salon , or rarely Paris Salon , beginning in 1725 was the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. Between 1748–1890 it was the greatest annual or biannual art event in the Western world...

, his Portrait of Madame X
Portrait of Madame X
Madame X or Portrait of Madame X is the informal title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau. The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society...

 was intended to consolidate his position as a society painter, but it resulted in scandal instead. From the beginning his work was characterized by remarkable technical facility, particularly in his ability to draw with a brush, which in later years inspired admiration as well as criticism for a supposed superficiality. His commissioned works were consistent with the Grand manner
Grand manner
Grand Manner refers to an idealized aesthetic style derived from classical art, and the modern "classic art" of the High Renaissance. In the eighteenth century, British artists and connoisseurs used the term to describe paintings that incorporated visual metaphors in order to suggest noble qualities...

 of portraiture, while his informal studies and landscape paintings displayed a familiarity with Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s...

. In later life Sargent expressed ambivalence about the restrictions of formal portrait work, and devoted much of his energy to mural
Mural
A mural is any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface. A particularly distinguishing characteristic of mural painting is that the architectural elements of the given space are harmoniously incorporated into the picture.-History:Murals of...

 painting and working en plein air
En plein air
En plein air is a French expression which means "in the open air", and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors.Artists have long painted outdoors, but in the mid-19th century working in natural light became particularly important to the Barbizon school and Impressionism...

.

Early life

Before Sargent's birth, his father FitzWilliam (b. 1820 Gloucester, Massachusetts
Gloucester, Massachusetts
Gloucester is a city on Cape Ann in Essex County, Massachusetts, in the United States. It is part of Massachusetts' North Shore. The population was 28,789 at the 2010 U.S. Census...

) was an eye surgeon at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia 1844-1854. After John's older sister died at the age of two, his mother Mary (née Singer) suffered a breakdown, and the couple decided to go abroad to recover. They remained nomadic expatriates for the rest of their lives. 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 Mary was pregnant, they stopped in Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

, Italy because of a cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

 epidemic
Epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

. Sargent was born there in 1856. A year later, his sister Mary was born. After her birth, FitzWilliam reluctantly resigned his post in Philadelphia and accepted his wife's entreaties to remain abroad. They lived modestly on a small inheritance and savings, living a quiet life with their children. They generally avoided society and other Americans except for friends in the art world. Four more children were born abroad, of whom only two lived past childhood.

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 quite a close observer of animated nature." His mother was quite convinced that traveling around Europe, and visiting museums and churches, would give young Sargent a satisfactory education. Several attempts to have him formally schooled failed, owing mostly to their itinerant life. Sargent's mother was a fine amateur artist and his father was a skilled medical illustrator. 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. FitzWilliam had hoped that his son's interest in ships and the sea might lead him toward 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." At age thirteen, he received some watercolor lessons from Carl Welsch, a German landscape painter. 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. 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). 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
Tintoretto
Tintoretto , real name Jacopo Comin, was a Venetian painter and a notable exponent of the Renaissance school. For his phenomenal energy in painting he was termed Il Furioso...

 immensely and to consider him perhaps second only to Michelangelo
Michelangelo
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni , commonly known as Michelangelo, was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art...

 and Titian
Titian
Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio (c. 1488/1490 – 27 August 1576 better known as Titian was an Italian painter, the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school. He was born in Pieve di Cadore, near...

."

Training

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
Carolus-Duran
Charles Auguste Émile Durand, known as Carolus-Duran , was a French painter and art instructor. He is noted for his stylish depictions of members of high society in Third Republic France.-Biography:...

. 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.

In 1874, on the first attempt, Sargent passed the rigorous exam required to gain admission to the École des Beaux-Arts
École des Beaux-Arts
École des Beaux-Arts refers to a number of influential art schools in France. The most famous is the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, now located on the left bank in Paris, across the Seine from the Louvre, in the 6th arrondissement. The school has a history spanning more than 350 years,...

, the premier art school in France. He took drawing classes, which included anatomy and perspective, and gained a silver prize. He also spent much time in self-study, drawing in museums and painting in a studio he shared with James Carroll Beckwith
James Carroll Beckwith
James Carroll Beckwith was an American landscape, portrait and genre painter whose Impressionist style led to his recognition in the late nineteenth century as a prominent figure in American art.-Biography:...

. He became both a valuable friend and Sargent's primary connection with the American artists abroad. Sargent also took some lessons from Léon Bonnat
Léon Bonnat
Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat was a French painter.He was born in Bayonne, but from 1846 to 1853 he lived in Madrid, where his father owned a bookshop. While tending his father's shop, he copied engravings of works by the Old Masters, developing a passion for drawing...

.

Carolus-Duran's atelier was progressive, dispensing with the traditional academic approach, which required careful drawing and underpainting, in favor of the alla prima
Alla prima
-Definition:alla prima is a painting technique done mostly in oils, in which the work is completed before the first layer of painting has dried up or is still wet, such as the 'impressionist' technique or 'Glaze '...

method of working directly on the canvas with a loaded brush, derived from Diego Velázquez
Diego Velázquez
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was a Spanish painter who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, important as a portrait artist...

. It was an approach that relied on the proper placement of tones of paint. This approach also permitted spontaneous flourishes of color not bound to an under-drawing. It was markedly different from the traditional atelier of Jean Léon Gérôme, where Americans Thomas Eakins
Thomas Eakins
Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator...

 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." Sargent's excellent command of French and his superior talent made him both popular and admired. Through his friendship with Paul César Helleu
Paul César Helleu
Paul César Helleu was a French artist best known for his portraits of many of the most famous and beautiful women of his time including the Duchess of Marlborough, the Countess of Greffulhe, the Marchesa Casati and Belle da Costa Greene.-Biography:He was born in Vannes, Brittany, France...

, Sargent would meet giants of the art world, including Degas
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas[p] , born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist...

, Rodin
Auguste Rodin
François-Auguste-René Rodin , known as Auguste Rodin , was a French sculptor. Although Rodin is generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, he did not set out to rebel against the past...

, Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. . Retrieved 6 January 2007...

, and Whistler.

Sargent's early enthusiasm was for landscapes
Landscape art
Landscape art is a term that covers the depiction of natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, and especially art where the main subject is a wide view, with its elements arranged into a coherent composition. In other works landscape backgrounds for figures can still...

, not portraiture, as evidenced by his voluminous sketches full of mountains, seascapes, and buildings. Carolus-Duran's expertise in portraiture finally influenced Sargent in that direction. Commissions for history paintings were still considered more prestigious, but were much harder to get. Portrait painting, on the other hand, was the best way of promoting an art career, getting exhibited in the Salon
Paris Salon
The Salon , or rarely Paris Salon , beginning in 1725 was the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. Between 1748–1890 it was the greatest annual or biannual art event in the Western world...

, and gaining commissions to earn a livelihood.

Sargent's first major portrait was of his friend Fanny Watts in 1877, and was also his first Salon admission. Its particularly well-executed pose drew attention. His second salon entry was the Oyster Gatherers of Cançale, an impressionistic
Impressionism
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s...

 painting of which he made two copies, one of which he sent back to the United States, and both received warm reviews.

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
Paris Salon
The Salon , or rarely Paris Salon , beginning in 1725 was the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. Between 1748–1890 it was the greatest annual or biannual art event in the Western world...

 was both a tribute to his teacher and an advertisement for portrait commissions. Of Sargent's early work, Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice 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."

After leaving Carolus-Duran's atelier, Sargent visited Spain. There he studied the paintings of Velázquez
Diego Velázquez
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was a Spanish painter who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, important as a portrait artist...

 with a passion, absorbing the master's technique, and in his travels gathered ideas for future works. 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
El Jaleo
El Jaleo is a large painting by John Singer Sargent, depicting a Spanish Gypsy dancer performing to the accompaniment of musicians. Painted in 1882, it currently hangs in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.-Background:...

(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 became a strong advocate for modern composers, especially Gabriel Fauré
Gabriel Fauré
Gabriel Urbain Fauré was a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th century composers...

. Trips to Italy provided sketches and ideas for several Venetian street scenes genre
Genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

 paintings, which effectively captured gestures and postures he would find useful in later portraiture.

Upon his return, Sargent quickly received several portrait commissions. His career was launched. He immediately demonstrated the concentration and stamina that 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 turned down unsatisfactory sitters.

Portraits

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 (1880) (done en plein-air) and Madame Ramón Subercaseaux (1881). He continued to receive positive critical notice.

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
The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit
The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit is a painting by John Singer Sargent. The painting depicts four young girls, the daughters of Edward Darley Boit, in their family's Paris apartment. It was painted in 1882 and is now exhibited in the new Art of the Americas Wing of the Museum of Fine Arts in...

, 1882, a haunting interior that echoes Velázquez's Las Meninas
Las Meninas
Las Meninas is a 1656 painting by Diego Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age, in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The work's complex and enigmatic composition raises questions about reality and illusion, and creates an uncertain relationship between the viewer and the figures...

. 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. One of his most widely exhibited and best loved works of the 1880s was The Lady with the Rose (1882), a portrait of Charlotte Burckhardt, a close friend and possible romantic attachment.

His most controversial work, Portrait of Madame X
Portrait of Madame X
Madame X or Portrait of Madame X is the informal title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau. The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society...

(Madame Pierre Gautreau) (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." when unveiled in Paris at the 1884 Salon, it aroused such a negative reaction that it likely prompted Sargent's move to London. Sargent's self-confidence had led him to attempt another risky experiment in portraiture—but this time it unexpectedly back-fired. 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. Sargent 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. ...you might tell her that I am a man of prodigious talent."


It took well over a year to complete the painting. The first version of the portrait of Madame Gautreau, with the famously plunging neckline, white-powdered skin, and arrogantly cocked head, featured an off-the-shoulder dress strap which made the overall effect more daring and sensual. Sargent changed the strap to try to dampen the furor, but the damage had been done. French commissions dried up and he told his friend Edmund Gosse
Edmund Gosse
Sir Edmund William Gosse CB was an English poet, author and critic; the son of Philip Henry Gosse and Emily Bowes.-Early life:...

 in 1885 that he contemplated giving up painting for music or business.

Writing of the reaction of visitors, Judith Gautier
Judith Gautier
Judith Gautier was a French poet and historical novelist, the daughter of Théophile Gautier and Ernesta Grisi, sister of the noted singer and ballet dancer Carlotta Grisi...

 observed:

"Is it a woman? a chimera, the figure of a unicorn
Unicorn
The unicorn is a legendary animal from European folklore that resembles a white horse with a large, pointed, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead, and sometimes a goat's beard...

 rearing as on a herald
Herald
A herald, or, more correctly, a herald of arms, is an officer of arms, ranking between pursuivant and king of arms. The title is often applied erroneously to all officers of arms....

ic 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
Arabesque
The arabesque is a form of artistic decoration consisting of "surface decorations based on rhythmic linear patterns of scrolling and interlacing foliage, tendrils" or plain lines, often combined with other elements...

? 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."


Prior to the Madame X scandal of 1884, Sargent had painted exotic beauties such as Rosina Ferrara
Rosina Ferrara
Rosina Ferrara was an Italian girl from the island of Capri, who became the favorite muse of American expatriate artist John Singer Sargent....

 of Capri
Capri
Capri is an Italian island in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the Sorrentine Peninsula, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples, in the Campania region of Southern Italy...

, 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
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

 in 1916, a few months after Gautreau's death.

Before arriving in England, Sargent began sending paintings for exhibition at the Royal Academy
Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London. The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and...

. 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 complete his move to London in 1886. Notwithstanding the Madame X scandal, he had considered moving to London as early as 1882; he had been urged to do so repeatedly by his new friend, the novelist Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

. In retrospect his transfer to London may be seen to have been inevitable.

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, however, Sargent soon gained the admiration of English patrons and critics. Henry James also gave the artist "a push to the best of my ability."

Sargent spent much time painting outdoors in the English countryside when not in his studio. On a visit to Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. . Retrieved 6 January 2007...

 at Giverny
Giverny
Giverny is a commune in the Eure department in north-western France. It is best known as the location of Claude Monet's garden and home.-Location:Giverny sits on the "right bank" of the River Seine where the river Epte meets the Seine...

 in 1885, Sargent 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
Impressionism
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s...

 painter, but he sometimes used impressionistic techniques to great effect. His Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood is rendered in his own version of the impressionist style. In the 1880s, he attended the Impressionist exhibitions and he began to paint outdoors in the plein-air
En plein air
En plein air is a French expression which means "in the open air", and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors.Artists have long painted outdoors, but in the mid-19th century working in natural light became particularly important to the Barbizon school and Impressionism...

manner after that visit to Monet. Sargent purchased four Monet works for his personal collection during that time.

Sargent was similarly inspired to do a portrait of his artist friend Paul César Helleu
Paul César Helleu
Paul César Helleu was a French artist best known for his portraits of many of the most famous and beautiful women of his time including the Duchess of Marlborough, the Countess of Greffulhe, the Marchesa Casati and Belle da Costa Greene.-Biography:He was born in Vannes, Brittany, France...

, also painting outdoors with his wife by his side. A photograph very similar to the painting suggests that Sargent occasionally used photography as an aid to composition. Through Helleu, Sargent met and painted the famed French sculptor Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin
François-Auguste-René Rodin , known as Auguste Rodin , was a French sculptor. Although Rodin is generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, he did not set out to rebel against the past...

 in 1884, a rather somber portrait reminiscent of works by Thomas Eakins
Thomas Eakins
Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator...

. 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."
Sargent's first major success at the Royal Academy came in 1887, with the enthusiastic response to Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, a large piece, painted on site, of two young girls lighting lanterns in an English garden in Broadway
Broadway, Worcestershire
Broadway is a village and civil parish in the Worcestershire part of the Cotswolds in England.Often referred to as the "Jewel of the Cotswolds", Broadway village lies beneath Fish Hill on the western Cotswold escarpment...

 in the Cotswolds
Cotswolds
The Cotswolds are a range of hills in west-central England, sometimes called the Heart of England, an area across and long. The area has been designated as the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty...

. The painting was immediately purchased by the Tate Gallery
Tate Gallery
The Tate is an institution that houses the United Kingdom's national collection of British Art, and International Modern and Contemporary Art...

.

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
Isabella Stewart Gardner
Isabella Stewart Gardner – founder of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston – was an American art collector, philanthropist, and one of the foremost female patrons of the arts....

, the famed Boston art patron. His portrait of Mrs. Adrian Iselin, wife of a New York businessman, revealed her character in one of his most insightful works. In Boston, Sargent was honored with his first solo exhibition, which presented twenty-two of his paintings.

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
Portrait painting
Portrait painting is a genre in painting, where the intent is to depict the visual appearance of the subject. Beside human beings, animals, pets and even inanimate objects can be chosen as the subject for a portrait...

 before him. After securing a commission through negotiations which he carried out, Sargent would visit the client's home to see where the painting was to hang. He 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. He usually required eight to ten sittings from his clients, though 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 lay down oil paint directly. Finally, he would select an appropriate frame.

Sargent had no assistants; he handled all the tasks, such as preparing his canvases, varnishing the painting, arranging for photography, shipping, and documentation. He commanded about $5,000 per portrait, or about $130,000 in current dollars. Some American clients 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
Ellen Terry
Dame Ellen Terry, GBE was an English stage actress who became the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain. Among the members of her famous family is her great nephew, John Gielgud....

 as Lady MacBeth and one of the popular Spanish dancer La Carmecita. Sargent was elected an associate of the Royal Academy
Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London. The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and...

, 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 (Mrs. Hugh Hammersley, 1892) 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 had unmatched success; he portrayed subjects who were at once ennobled and often possessed of nervous energy. Sargent was referred to as "the Van Dyck of our times." Although Sargent was an American expatriate, he returned to the United States many times, often to answer the demand for commissioned portraits.

Sargent painted a series of three portraits of Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer. His best-known books include Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde....

. The second, Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson and his Wife (1885), was one of his best known. He also completed portraits of two U.S. presidents: Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...

 and Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

.
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. The paintings reveal a pleasant familiarity between the artist and his subjects. Wertheimer bequeathed most of the paintings to the National Gallery
National Gallery, London
The National Gallery is an art museum on Trafalgar Square, London, United Kingdom. Founded in 1824, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. The gallery is an exempt charity, and a non-departmental public body of the Department for Culture, Media...

. In 1888, Sargent released his portrait of Alice Vanderbilt Shepard
Alice Vanderbilt Morris
Alice Vanderbilt Morris , born Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, was a member of the American Vanderbilt family. She co-founded the International Auxiliary Language Association .-Biography:...

, great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt , also known by the sobriquet Commodore, was an American entrepreneur who built his wealth in shipping and railroads. He was also the patriarch of the Vanderbilt family and one of the richest Americans in history...

. Many of his most important works are in museums in the United States.

By 1900, Sargent was at the height of his fame. Cartoonist Max Beerbohm
Max Beerbohm
Sir Henry Maximilian "Max" Beerbohm was an English essayist, parodist and caricaturist best known today for his 1911 novel Zuleika Dobson.-Early life:...

 completed one of his seventeen caricatures of Sargent, making well-known to the public the artist's paunchy physique. 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, Palazzo Barbaro, was a resounding success. But, Whistler did not approve of the looseness of Sargent's brushwork, which he summed up as "smudge everywhere." 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.

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." 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.

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 on, Sargent largely forsook portrait painting and focused on landscapes in his later years. He made numerous visits to the United States in the last decade of his life, including a stay of two full years from 1915-1917.

By the time Sargent finished his portrait of John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller
John Davison Rockefeller was an American oil industrialist, investor, and philanthropist. He was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and was the first great U.S. business trust. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry and defined the structure of...

 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
Cubism
Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture...

 and Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century.Futurism or futurist may refer to:* Afrofuturism, an African-American and African diaspora subculture* Cubo-Futurism* Ego-Futurism...

. 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." In 1925, soon before he died, Sargent painted his last oil portrait, a canvas of Grace Curzon, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston
Grace Curzon, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston
Grace Elvina, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston was born as Grace Elvina Hinds in Alabama, a daughter of J. Monroe Hinds, former United States Minister to Brazil...

. The painting was purchased in 1936 by the Currier Museum of Art
Currier Museum of Art
The Currier Museum of Art is an art museum in Manchester, New Hampshire, USA, featuring European and American paintings, decorative arts, photographs and sculpture. The permanent collection includes works by Picasso, Matisse, Monet, O'Keeffe, Calder, Scheier and Goldsmith, John Singer Sargent,...

, where it is on display.

Watercolors

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. 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." 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
Orientalism
Orientalism is a term used for the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists, as well as having other meanings...

 costume, relaxing in brightly lit landscapes that allowed for a more vivid palette and experimental handling than did his commissions (The Chess Game, 1906). His first major solo exhibit of watercolor works was at the Carfax Gallery in London in 1905. In 1909, he exhibited eighty-six watercolors in New York City, eighty-three of which were bought by the Brooklyn Museum
Brooklyn Museum
The Brooklyn Museum is an encyclopedia art museum located in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. At 560,000 square feet, the museum holds New York City's second largest art collection with roughly 1.5 million works....

. Evan Charteris
Evan Charteris
The Hon. Sir Evan Edward Charteris was an English biographer, barrister and arts administrator...

 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.’"


Though not generally accorded the critical respect given Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer was an American landscape painter and printmaker, best known for his marine subjects. He is considered one of the foremost painters in 19th century America and a preeminent figure in American art....

, 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.

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
Royal Society of Portrait Painters
The Royal Society of Portrait Painters is a British association of portrait painters which holds an annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London...

 in 1916.

All of Sargent's murals are to be found in the Boston/Cambridge area. They are in the Boston Public Library
Boston Public Library, McKim Building
The Boston Public Library McKim Building in Copley Square contains the library's research collection, exhibition rooms and administrative offices...

, the Museum of Fine Arts
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, is one of the largest museums in the United States, attracting over one million visitors a year. It contains over 450,000 works of art, making it one of the most comprehensive collections in the Americas...

, and Harvard's Widener Library
Widener Library
The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, commonly known as Widener Library, is the primary building of the library system of Harvard University. Located on the south side of Harvard Yard directly across from Memorial Church, Widener serves as the centerpiece of the 15.6 million-volume Harvard...

. Sargent's largest scale works are the mural decorations that grace the Boston Public Library depicting the history of religion and the gods of polytheism. They were attached to the walls of the library by means of marouflage
Marouflage
Marouflage is a technique for affixing a painted canvas to a wall to be used as a mural, using an adhesive that hardens as it dries such as plaster or cement....

. He worked on the cycle for almost thirty years but never completed the final mural. Sargent drew on his extensive travels and museum visits to create a dense art art historial melange. The murals were restored in 2003-2004.

Sargent worked on the murals from 1895 through 1919; they were intended to show religion's (and society's) progress, from pagan superstition up through the ascension of Christianity, concluding with a painting depicting Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount. But Sargent's late 1919 paintings of "The Church" and "The Synagogue" inspired a debate about whether the artist had represented Judaism in a stereotypic, or even an anti-Semitic, manner. Drawing upon iconography that was used in medieval paintings, Sargent portrayed Judaism and the synagogue as a blind, ugly hag, and Christianity and the church as a lovely, and radiant young woman. He also failed to understand how these representations might be problematic for the Jews of Boston; he was both surprised and hurt when the paintings were criticized (Promey http://www.bpl.org/central/sargenttriumph.htm). The paintings were objectionable since they seemed to show Judaism defeated, and Christianity triumphant ("New Painting At Public Library" 48). The Boston newspapers also followed the controversy, noting that while many found the paintings offensive, not everyone was in agreement. In the end, Sargent abandoned his plan to finish the murals, and the controversy eventually died down. The paintings were not displayed until 2003-2004, when the Boston Public Library restored the murals, including the two controversial panels, making them available to audiences once again (Lehmann-Barclay).

Upon his return to England in 1918 after a visit to the United States, Sargent was commissioned as a war artist by the British Ministry of Information. In his large painting Gassed
Gassed (painting)
Gassed is a very large oil painting completed in March 1919 by John Singer Sargent. It depicts the aftermath of a mustard gas attack during the First World War, with a line of wounded soldiers walking towards a dressing station...

and in many watercolors, he depicted scenes from the Great War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

.

Later life and death

In 1922 Sargent co-founded New York City's Grand Central Art Galleries
Grand Central Art Galleries
The Grand Central Art Galleries were the exhibition and administrative space of the nonprofit Painters and Sculptors Gallery Association, an artists' cooperative established in 1922 by Walter Leighton Clark together with John Singer Sargent, Edmund Greacen, and others...

 together with Edmund Greacen
Edmund Greacen
Edmund Greacen was an American Impressionist painter.He was born in New York City, New York. He graduated from New York University. After traveling around the world he entered the Art Students League of New York. He also took classes at the New York School of Art, where he studied with William...

, Walter Leighton Clark
Walter Leighton Clark
Walter Leighton Clark was an American businessman, inventor, and artist based in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and New York City. Among other achievements, in 1923 he founded with John Singer Sargent the Grand Central Art Galleries, located within New York City's Grand Central Terminal, to offer...

, and others. Sargent actively participated in the Grand Central Art Galleries and their academy, the Grand Central School of Art
Grand Central School of Art
The Grand Central School of Art was an American art school in New York City, founded in 1923 by the painters Edmund Greacen, Walter Leighton Clark and John Singer Sargent. The school was established and run by the Grand Central Art Galleries, an artists' cooperative founded by Sargent, Greacen,...

, until his death in 1925. The Galleries held a major retrospective exhibit of Sargent's work in 1924. He then returned to England, where he died on April 14, 1925 of heart disease. Sargent is interred in Brookwood Cemetery
Brookwood Cemetery
Brookwood Cemetery is a burial ground in Brookwood, Surrey, England. It is the largest cemetery in the United Kingdom and one of the largest in western Europe.-History:...

 near Woking, Surrey.

Memorial exhibitions of Sargent's work were held in Boston in 1925, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Royal Academy and Tate Gallery in London in 1926. The Grand Central Art Galleries also organized a posthumous exhibition in 1928 of previously unseen sketches and drawings from throughout his career.

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
Dennis Miller Bunker
Dennis Miller Bunker was an American painter and innovator of American Impressionism. His mature works include both brightly colored landscape paintings and dark, finely drawn portraits and figures...

, James Carroll Beckwith
James Carroll Beckwith
James Carroll Beckwith was an American landscape, portrait and genre painter whose Impressionist style led to his recognition in the late nineteenth century as a prominent figure in American art.-Biography:...

, Edwin Austin Abbey
Edwin Austin Abbey
Edwin Austin Abbey was an American artist, illustrator, and painter. He flourished at the beginning of what is now referred to as the "golden age" of illustration, and is best known for his drawings and paintings of Shakespearean and Victorian subjects, as well as for his painting of Edward VII's...

 (who also worked on the Boston Public Library
Boston Public Library
The Boston Public Library is a municipal public library system in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. It was the first publicly supported municipal library in the United States, the first large library open to the public in the United States, and the first public library to allow people to...

 murals), Francis David Millet and Claude Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. . Retrieved 6 January 2007...

, whom Sargent painted. Between 1905 and 1914, Sargent's frequent traveling companions were the married artist couple Wilfrid de Glehn
Wilfrid de Glehn
Wilfrid Gabriel de Glehn , RA was an Impressionist British painter, elected to the Royal Academy in 1932.Wilfried Von Glehn was born in Sydenham in south-east London...

 and Jane Emmet de Glehn
Jane Emmet de Glehn
-Early life:Born in New Rochelle, New York, she was the youngest daughter of ten siblings. Her great-great-uncle Robert Emmet was a notable Irish nationalist who was hanged in 1803 for high treason by the British court for his attempt to implement an abortive Irish rebellion...

. The trio would often spend summers in France, Spain or Italy and all three would depict one another in their paintings during their travels.

Sargent developed a life-long friendship with fellow painter Paul César Helleu
Paul César Helleu
Paul César Helleu was a French artist best known for his portraits of many of the most famous and beautiful women of his time including the Duchess of Marlborough, the Countess of Greffulhe, the Marchesa Casati and Belle da Costa Greene.-Biography:He was born in Vannes, Brittany, France...

, whom he met in Paris in 1878 when Sargent was 22 and Helleu was 18. Sargent's friends and supporters included Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

, Isabella Stewart Gardner
Isabella Stewart Gardner
Isabella Stewart Gardner – founder of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston – was an American art collector, philanthropist, and one of the foremost female patrons of the arts....

 (who commissioned and purchased works from Sargent, and sought his advice on other acquisitions), and Edward VII
Edward VII of the United Kingdom
Edward VII was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India from 22 January 1901 until his death in 1910...

.

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." 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
Prince Edmond de Polignac
Prince Edmond Melchior Jean Marie de Polignac was a French composer.- Heritage, prison sentence :Edmond was a descendant of one of the more illustrious families of France. His grandmother, the duchesse de Polignac, had been the close friend of Queen Marie-Antoinette...

 and Count Robert de Montesquiou
Robert de Montesquiou
Marie Joseph Robert Anatole, comte de Montesquiou-Fézensac , was a French aesthete, Symbolist poet, art collector and dandy....

. 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. 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). Art historian Deborah Davis suggests that Sargent's interest in women he considered exotic, Rosina Ferrara, Amélie Gautreau and Judith Gautier, was prompted by infatuation that transcended aesthetic appreciation. The likelihood of an affair with Louise Burkhardt, the model for Lady with the Rose, is accepted by Sargent scholars.

Critical assessment

In a time when the art world focused, in turn, on Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s...

, Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism is the style of les Fauves , a short-lived and loose group of early twentieth-century Modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong colour over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism...

, and Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture...

, Sargent practiced his own form of Realism
Realism (arts)
Realism in the visual arts and literature refers to the general attempt to depict subjects "in accordance with secular, empirical rules", as they are considered to exist in third person objective reality, without embellishment or interpretation...

, which made brilliant references to Velázquez, Van Dyck, and Gainsborough
Thomas Gainsborough
Thomas Gainsborough was an English portrait and landscape painter.-Suffolk:Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk. He was the youngest son of John Gainsborough, a weaver and maker of woolen goods. At the age of thirteen he impressed his father with his penciling skills so that he let...

. 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; Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Newton Phelps-Stokes, 1897, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and earned Sargent the moniker, "the Van Dyck of our times."

Still, during his life his work engendered critical responses from some of his colleagues: Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro was a French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter born on the island of St Thomas . His importance resides in his contributions to both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, as he was the only artist to exhibit in both forms...

 wrote "he is not an enthusiast but rather an adroit performer," and Walter Sickert
Walter Sickert
Walter Richard Sickert , born in Munich, Germany, was a painter who was a member of the Camden Town Group in London. He was an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century....

 published a satirical turn under the heading "Sargentolatry." By the time of his death he was dismissed as an anachronism, a relic of the Gilded Age
Gilded Age
In United States history, the Gilded Age refers to the era of rapid economic and population growth in the United States during the post–Civil War and post-Reconstruction eras of the late 19th century. The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their book The Gilded...

 and out of step with the artistic sentiments of post-World War I Europe. Elizabeth Prettejohn
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Elizabeth Prettejohn is an art historian and author of several books about art history. Her books have included "Rossetti and his Circle" , "The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites" and "Art for Art's Sake" . She has also co-edited and coauthored books...

 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.' It has been suggested that the exotic qualities 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
Sarod
The sarod is a stringed musical instrument, used mainly in Indian classical music. Along with the sitar, it is the most popular and prominent instrument in the classical music of Hindustan...

, 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.

Foremost of Sargent's detractors was the influential English art critic Roger Fry
Roger Fry
Roger Eliot Fry was an English artist and art critic, and a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Establishing his reputation as a scholar of the Old Masters, he became an advocate of more recent developments in French painting, to which he gave the name Post-Impressionism...

, of the Bloomsbury Group
Bloomsbury Group
The Bloomsbury Group or Bloomsbury Set was a group of writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists who held informal discussions in Bloomsbury throughout the 20th century. This English collective of friends and relatives lived, worked or studied near Bloomsbury in London during the first half...

, 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." And, in the 1930s, Lewis Mumford
Lewis Mumford
Lewis Mumford was an American historian, philosopher of technology, and influential literary critic. Particularly noted for his study of cities and urban architecture, he had a broad career as a writer...

 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
Ashcan School
The Ashcan School, also called the Ash Can School, is defined as a realist artistic movement that came into prominence in the United States during the early twentieth century, best known for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York's poorer neighborhoods. The movement grew out of a group...

, was on the ascent.

Despite a long period of critical disfavor, Sargent's popularity has increased steadily since the 1950s. In the 1960s, a revival of Victorian art and new scholarship directed at Sargent strengthened his reputation. Sargent has been the subject of large-scale exhibitions in major museums, including a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art
Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney Museum of American Art, often referred to simply as "the Whitney", is an art museum with a focus on 20th- and 21st-century American art. Located at 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street in New York City, the Whitney's permanent collection contains more than 18,000 works in a wide variety of...

 in 1986, and a 1999 "blockbuster" travelling show that exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, is one of the largest museums in the United States, attracting over one million visitors a year. It contains over 450,000 works of art, making it one of the most comprehensive collections in the Americas...

, the National Gallery of Art Washington, and the National Gallery, London
National Gallery, London
The National Gallery is an art museum on Trafalgar Square, London, United Kingdom. Founded in 1824, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. The gallery is an exempt charity, and a non-departmental public body of the Department for Culture, Media...

.

In 1986, Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andrew Warhola , known as Andy Warhol, was an American painter, printmaker, and filmmaker who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art...

 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
Robert Hughes (critic)
Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, AO is an Australian-born art critic, writer and television documentary maker who has resided in New York since 1970.-Early life:...

 praised Sargent as "the unrivaled recorder of male power and female beauty in a day that, like ours, paid excessive court to both."

Posthumous sales

Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson and his Wife sold in 2004 for $US 8.8 million to Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn
Steve Wynn (developer)
Stephen Alan "Steve" Wynn is an American business magnate who played a pivotal role in the 1990s resurgence and expansion of the Las Vegas Strip...

 to be installed at his newest casino, Wynn Las Vegas
Wynn Las Vegas
Wynn Las Vegas is a resort and casino located on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada. The US $2.7 billion resort is named after casino developer Steve Wynn and is the flagship property of Wynn Resorts Limited. The resort covers . It is located on Las Vegas Boulevard and Sands Avenue Wynn Las...

.

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.

External links

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