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John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925) is considered one of the leading portrait painters and is known for his evocations of the luxury of his era. He created over 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as many sketches and drawings. He also traveled extensively across Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Many of John Singer Sargent portraits which can be found in museums across the world, depict society’s leading lights and the opulence of their time.

Sargent was born in Florence to American parents and trained in Paris before moving to London, living most of his life in Europe. His “Portrait of Madame X”, created a scandal, which led to Sargent departure for England where he continued a successful career as a portrait artist. His commissioned works were consistent with the grand manner of portraiture, while his informal studies and landscape paintings displayed a familiarity with Impressionism.

In later life, Sargent expressed ambivalence about the restrictions of formal portrait work and devoted much of his energy to mural painting and working en plein air. Art historians generally ignored “society” artists such as Sargent until the late 20th century.

A Tour of John Singer Sargent Masterpieces

  • Mrs Fiske Warren and Her Daughter Rachel
    • “Mrs. Fiske Warren (Gretchen Osgood) and Her Daughter Rachel” is an oil on canvas portrait painting completed in 1903 by the American portrait artist John Singer Sargent. Gretchen Osgood Warren came from a prominent Boston family and was an accomplished poet as well as being an actress and singer. She posed with her eldest daughter Rachel at Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Mansion (now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), where Sargent had set up a temporary studio. Museum: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

  • Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)
    • “Portrait of Madame X” by John Singer Sargent shows a socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, an American expatriate who was married to a French banker. The portrait shows a woman posing in a black satin dress with jeweled straps. The pale flesh tone of the subject contrast against a dark-colored dress and background. The model was who became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. Her beauty made her an object of fascination for artists. Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

  • Two Girls with Parasols
    • “Two Girls with Parasols” by John Singer Sargent depicts the artist’s sister, Violet, in the foreground, and a friend walking in England’s Berkshire countryside. In the 1880s, Sargent attended the Impressionist exhibitions, and he began to paint outdoors in the plein-air manner after visiting Claude Monet at his home in the village of Giverny. This painting is an unfinished canvas, which reflects Claude Monet’s influence. Sargent was inspired by the Impressionist master and purchased four Monet works for his collection. Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET and Met Breuer

  • The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit
    • “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” by John Singer Sargent depicts four young girls, the daughters of Edward Darley Boit, in their family’s Paris apartment. Dressed in white frocks, the most youthful, four-year-old Julia, sits on the floor, eight-year-old Mary Louisa stands at left, and the two oldest, Jane, aged twelve, and Florence, fourteen, stand in the background, partially obscured by shadow. Museum: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

  • Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood
    • “Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood” by John Singer Sargent show the famous impressionist master Claude Monet at Giverny together with Alice Hoschedé, whom Monet had befriended and who was to become his second wife. Monet is sitting at an easel painting a landscape outdoors, doing what he advocated, painting directly from nature. In the 1880s, Sargent attended the Impressionist exhibitions, and he began to paint outdoors in the plein-air manner after visiting Claude Monet at his home in the village of Giverny. This painting reflects Claude Monet’s influence on Sargent who purchased four Monet works for his personal collection. Museum: Tate Britain

  • Bedouin Camp
    • Sargent made extensive tours to the Middle East and North Africa where he painted many Bedouin scenes. In Bedouin Camp, Sargent used undiluted watercolors straight from the tube. He also bulked colors with the addition of white zinc paint as can be seen in the buildup and cracking of paint in the face and turban of the squatting Bedouin at the lower right. Museum: Brooklyn Museum

  • Arab Gypsies in a Tent
    • With his Bedouin series, Sargent used the expressive power of the robed figures animated by sharp piercing light. He used the tents as a background framework to focus on the composition. In this watercolor of “Arab Gypsies in a Tent” features a hooded Gypsy, whose hands are brilliantly portrayed over the round shape of a tray. Museum: Brooklyn Museum

  • Goatherds
    • “Goatherds” was completed nearby Mount Tabor and the Plain of Esdraelon and goatherds with their herd. Sargent visited the region of the Sea of Galilee, in Syria researching for his plan to execute a painting of the Sermon on the Mount for the Boston Public Library mural cycle. This depiction was rendered in a palette to reflect the bright outside light compared to that of the Bedouin subjects in their tents. Museum: Brooklyn Museum

  • The Bridge of Sighs
    • The Bridge of Sighs depicts a bridge located in Venice, Italy. The enclosed bridge is made of white limestone, has windows with stone bars, passes over the Rio di Palazzo, and connects the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace. It was built in 1600 and was named by Lord Byron in the 19th century based on the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their last view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells. Museum: Brooklyn Museum

  • La Riva
    • John Singer Sargent created hundreds of watercolors of Venice, and they are especially notable when done from the perspective of a gondola as this depiction has been made. His colors were vivid and conveyed the feeling of a dream. During Sargent’s long career, every destination offered pictorial stimulation and treasure. Even on his holidays and travels, he painted with feverish intensity, often painting from morning until night. Museum: Brooklyn Museum

John Singer Sargent

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“You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.”
– John Singer Sargent


Photo Credit: John Singer Sargent [Public domain]