10/27/06 - John Singer Sargent

In today's excerpt - John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). He was the most successful portrait painter of his era, as well as a gifted landscape painter and watercolorist. He was an American expatriate who lived most of his life in Europe. Sargent was born in Florence, Italy to American parents and studied in Italy, Germany and Paris. During the greater part of Sargent's career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings:

"When Sargent's portraits hung on the walls of galleries in London, Paris, New York, Boston, Chicago or Philadelphia, what seemed to distinguish them from works by other artists was the illusion they presented of life being lived, as if the membrane between real life and created art had been utterly thinned. At the Royal Academy in 1891, the Times critic wrote of La Carmencita:

" 'What one gets from it is an extraordinary sense of vitality: this, one is half-inclined to say, is not a picture, it is the living being itself, and when the music strikes up she will be bound away in the dance. For beauty, that is another matter; the painter has not gone in search of it in the first instance - he has preoccupied himself with life, in the hope that beauty would emerge with it.'

"In 1891 ... Sargent was still regarded as a young pretender. ... [T]he Pall Mall Gazette noted, 'They do not like his work at the Academy ... [and] the papers say he is an eccentric.' ... He was still very much a painter's painter, but his edgy style and innovatory compositions continued to arouse suspicion and unease. ... That changed during the spring of 1892, when Sargent painted two beautiful cultivated women: Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, the epitome of stylish repose, and Mrs. Hugh Hammersley, an exercise in nervy refinement. When the portraits were exhibited the following spring ... critics were transported, writing in language rich with the vocabulary of sensation and abandon. ...

"Sargent had developed a form of bravura realism crossed with impressionism, painting with an eye for the realities of light and colour in powerful and succulent brushstrokes, so that his sitters were presented as real people. His vision and technique was introducing something new to the English portrait tradition, and was beginning to stamp an exciting authority on the English art world."

John Singer Sargent

La Carmencita

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw

Mrs. Hugh Hammersley


Richard Ormand and Elaine Kilmurray


John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits Complete Paintings Volume III


Yale University Press


2003 Yale University


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