John Singer Sargent

Monday, March 6th 2023

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was an American artist born in Florence, Italy, to American parents. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest portrait painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sargent began his artistic training in Paris under the guidance of Carolus-Duran, who taught him the importance of painting quickly and capturing the essence of his subject. This technique would become one of Sargent's signature styles.

In 1884, Sargent moved to London, where he established himself as a successful portrait painter. He was particularly well known for his ability to capture the likenesses of his subjects, but also for his ability to convey their personalities and moods. Among his most famous portraits are those of Madame X, painted in 1884, and the portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson, painted in 1887.

Sargent was also a skilled watercolorist, and he painted a number of landscapes and street scenes throughout his career. He was particularly drawn to Venice, and he produced many works depicting the city's canals and architecture.

Sargent was a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He was also a founding member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Sargent's contribution to art history is significant for several reasons. First, he was a master of portraiture, and his work continues to be studied and admired today. Second, his technique of painting quickly and capturing the essence of his subject influenced many other artists of his time and beyond. Finally, his watercolors, particularly his landscapes and street scenes, helped to popularize the medium and elevate it to the status of a serious art form.

Today, Sargent's works can be found in many museums around the world, including the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

Sizable Collections in America

John Singer Sargent's work can be found in many museums across America, but some of the largest collections are held by the following institutions:

  1. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston holds the largest collection of Sargent's work in the world, including more than 2,000 pieces. The collection includes portraits, landscapes, watercolors, and drawings.

  2. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City also has an extensive collection of Sargent's work, with over 1,000 pieces, including some of his most famous portraits.

  3. Art Institute of Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago has a significant collection of Sargent's work, including several of his famous portraits, as well as landscapes, watercolors, and sketches.

  4. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has a collection of Sargent's work that includes portraits, watercolors, and drawings.

  5. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.: The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a collection of Sargent's work that includes portraits, landscapes, and watercolors.

These museums provide an excellent opportunity to view Sargent's work in person and to gain a deeper appreciation of his contributions to art history.

Notable pieces at the National Gallery

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. holds several notable pieces by John Singer Sargent, including:

  1. "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" (1882): This large-scale portrait depicts four young sisters in a Parisian apartment, surrounded by dark, shadowy space. The painting is known for its mysterious and enigmatic quality, and it has become one of Sargent's most famous works.

  2. "Lady Agnew of Lochnaw" (1892): This portrait depicts a young Scottish socialite, Gertrude Agnew, in a luxurious satin gown. The painting is notable for its lively brushwork and the way it captures the sitter's beauty and personality.

  3. "Madame X" (1884): This portrait depicts a beautiful and fashionable woman, Madame Pierre Gautreau, in a striking black gown with a plunging neckline. The painting caused controversy when it was first exhibited due to its sensual and provocative nature.

  4. "A Dinner Table at Night" (1884): This painting depicts a group of well-dressed diners gathered around a table, with a sense of tension and unease in the air. The work is notable for its use of color and light to create a sense of drama and atmosphere.

These pieces, among others, are part of the National Gallery's extensive collection of American and European art, and they offer a fascinating glimpse into Sargent's artistic vision and techniques.

Notable exhibits and retrospectives

John Singer Sargent's work has been the subject of many notable exhibits and retrospectives over the years. Some of the most significant ones include:

  1. Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the Late John Singer Sargent, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1926: This exhibition was held shortly after Sargent's death and showcased a wide range of his work, including portraits, landscapes, and watercolors.

  2. John Singer Sargent Retrospective Exhibition, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1956: This retrospective exhibition was the first major exhibition of Sargent's work since his death and featured over 120 paintings, watercolors, and drawings.

  3. John Singer Sargent, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1986: This exhibition was the first major retrospective of Sargent's work in the United States in over 20 years and featured over 100 paintings, watercolors, and drawings.

  4. John Singer Sargent, Tate Gallery, London, 1998: This retrospective exhibition featured over 100 works by Sargent and was one of the largest exhibitions of his work ever held in Europe.

  5. Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2015: This exhibition focused on Sargent's portraits of his fellow artists and friends, including artists such as Claude Monet and Robert Louis Stevenson.

These exhibitions and retrospectives have helped to cement Sargent's reputation as one of the most important portrait painters of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and they continue to provide a fascinating insight into his artistic vision and techniques.

Notable exhibits which featured Sargent's watercolors

There have been several notable exhibits featuring John Singer Sargent's watercolors, showcasing his skill in this medium. Some of the most significant exhibitions include:

  1. John Singer Sargent: Watercolors, Brooklyn Museum, New York, 1909: This was the first major exhibition of Sargent's watercolors and included 97 works, many of which had never been exhibited before.

  2. John Singer Sargent: Watercolors, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, 1958: This exhibition featured 76 of Sargent's watercolors, including many of his studies of Venice and the Middle East.

  3. John Singer Sargent: Watercolors, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1992: This exhibition featured over 100 watercolors by Sargent and was one of the largest exhibitions of his watercolors ever held.

  4. Sargent and Italy, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 2010: This exhibition focused on Sargent's watercolors of Italy, featuring over 80 works and exploring his fascination with the country's landscape, architecture, and people.

  5. Sargent: The Watercolors, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2013: This exhibition featured over 80 watercolors by Sargent and explored his use of the medium to capture the essence of his subjects, whether they were landscapes, architectural features, or people.

These exhibitions have helped to showcase Sargent's incredible talent and skill in watercolor painting, and they have given viewers a chance to see the full range of his work in this medium.