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 John Singer Sargent  (1856 - 1925)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts / United Kingdom/Italy      Known for: portrait, figure, landscape and mural painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Florence, Italy to a New England doctor and wife, John Singer Sargent became a leading portrait and figure painter of subjects in international society during the Gilded Age. Late in his career, he was a leading proponent of watercolor as a respectable medium for finished work.

His American parents lived in Europe most of their lives and followed the social season between the capital cities. Traveling continuously with his parents, he showed early art talent and was encouraged by his mother, an amateur painter. In Rome at age 12, he studied with Carl Welsch, a German-American artist and in 1870 at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. In Paris, he was accepted in 1874 at the Ecole des Beaux Arts but switched to the less academically oriented atelier of Carolus Duran, who had major impact on Sargent's style. Duran was an adventurous portrait painter who blended realism with a certain freedom of style.

Sargent was also affected by portrait style of Velasquez, the Tonalism or mood painting of James Whistler, and Impressionism of Edgar Degas. He spent time at Monet's home town of Giverny, absorbing Impressionist techniques there.

Sargent's career ended in Paris with his painting "Portrait of Mme X," 1884, because it was a startlingly accurate portrayal of a notoriously beautiful woman who was Sargent's cousin. Some said the pose was provocative, but aside from the reputation of the subject, there seems little reason from a late 20th century perspective to find the work controversial.

From 1885 until 1925, Sargent lived primarily in London where his career as a portrait painter was highly successful, but he traveled frequently to the United States where he also had many portrait commissions, especially from upper class Bostonians. However by 1908, he was expressing much tiredness with the demands on his talents and the need to flatter his subjects. He began to limit himself to charcoal portrait sketches and also painted murals. In the early 1890s, he began a twenty-five year mural project for the Boston Public Library and painted murals at the Widener Library.

In July 1918, he became a part of the War Artists Memorial Committee of the British Ministry of Information and went to France, in the vicinity of Bavincourt, at age 62 to record battle scenes and military figures. Working in both oil and charcoal, it was written about him that he "accepted his surroundings completely and went about his work as though quite accustomed to military life." One of his associates wrote that he "came to wonder if Sargent had any idea how dangerous an exploding shell might be, for he never showed the least sign of fear." (Mount 293)

His last years he devoted to Impressionist watercolors of European scenes and architecture. He found watercolor to be the most pleasureable outlet for his tremendous energy and compulsions to sketch what he saw around him. He was a man who lived for his work and aside from general socializing had had little private life beyond his family. He never married although "he had at times adored certain women, momentarialy finding in them a reflected image of what he sought" (Mount 323).

A major retrospective of Sargent's portrait painting was held at the Tate Gallery in London in Fall, 1998.

Source:
Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Art"
Charles Merrill Mount, "John Singer Sargent"

Biography from Mark Borghi Fine Art Inc - New York:
Recognized as the leading portraitist in England and the United States at the turn of the century, John Singer Sargent was acclaimed for his elegant and very stylish depictions of high society. Known for his technical ability, he shunned traditional academic precepts in favor of a modern approach towards technique, color and form, thereby making his own special contribution to the history of grand manner portraiture.

A true cosmopolite, he was also a painter of plein-air landscapes and genre scenes, drawing his subjects from such diverse locales as England, France, Italy and Switzerland. In so doing, Sargent also played a vital role in the history of British and American Impressionism.

Sargent was born in Florence in 1856. He was the first child of Dr. Fitzwilliam Sargent, a surgeon from an old New England family, and Mary Newbold Singer, the daughter of a Philadelphia merchant. His parents were among the many prosperous Americans who adopted an outcast-like lifestyle during the later nineteenth century. Indeed, Sargent's family traveled constantly throughout the Continent and in England, a mode of living that enriched Sargent both culturally and socially. He ultimately became fluent in French, Italian and German, in addition to English.

Having developed an interest in drawing as a boy, Sargent received his earliest formal instruction in Rome in 1869, where he was taught by the German-American landscape painter Carl Welsch. Following this, he attended the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence during 1873-74. In the spring of 1874, Sargents family moved to Paris, enabling him to continue his training there. He soon entered the studio of Charles-Emile-Auguste Carolus-Duran. In contrast to most French academic painters, Carolus-Duran taught his students to paint directly on the canvas, capturing the essence of his subject through relaxed brushwork, a tonal palette and strong chiaroscuro.

Although Sargent also spent four years studying drawing under Lon Bonnat at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, it was Carolus-Duran's approach that would form the aesthetic basis of his style. Upon his teacher's advice, Sargent also traveled to Spain and Holland to study the work of old master painters such as Diego Velzquez and Frans Hals, both of whom also employed skilled, fluid techniques.

In 1876, Sargent made his first visit to the United States, claiming his American citizenship and visiting the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. One year later, he spent the summer in Cancale, in Frances Brittany region, where he painted outdoors, applying Carolus-Durans strategies to portrayals of fishing folk on sunlit beaches. His reputation in Paris was established in 1878 when his Oyster Gatherers of Cancale (1878; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) won an Honorable Mention at that years Salon.

During the early 1880s, Sargent began making painting trips abroad, working in Venice in 1880 and 1882, where he painted street scenes and interiors notable for their brilliant play of light and shadow. He also embarked on what would be a lucrative career as a portraitist, producing such well known works as The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

His early commissions also included an image of Madame Pierre Gautreau. A renowned beauty and member of Parisian society, Madame Gautreau was known for her bold, unorthodox approach towards fashion. In her portrait, entitled "Madame X" (1884; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Sargent effectively captured her distinctive aura. However, his daring realism, coupled with fact that he portrayed a diamond shoulder strap falling off one of her shoulders, caused such an uproar that his career in France was seriously compromised. As a result of the controversy surrounding "Madame X," Sargent left Paris in 1886, settling permanently in London. He subsequently flourished in the English capital, becoming the leading portrait painter to the upper classes.

Those who shared Sargents sense of refinement and sophistication, as well as his international viewpoint, were especially drawn to his fashionable French style. In addition to patronage from such prominent British families as the Wertheimers and the Marlboroughs, Sargent received an equal number of American commissions, many of them secured by artists and architects he had met during his student days in Paris, among them painters J. Carroll Beckwith and Julian Alden Weir and architect Stanford White.

On a painting tour to America during 1887-1888, he portrayed members of notable families from Boston and New York, including Mrs. Jacob Wendell and Elizabeth Allen Marquand. Like their British counterparts, Sargents American patrons were drawn to his distinctive style. However, his solid New England ancestry also worked to his advantage, helping him to establish connections in upper class society. Interest in his work in Boston was given further impetus by a solo exhibition of his paintings at the St. Botolph Club in 1888.

Two years later, Sargent became involved with the mural decorations for the Boston Public Library, a project that would occupy him until 1919. He went on to execute murals for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1916-25) and for the Widener Library at Harvard University (1921-22). At the same time that he was moving to the forefront of portraiture, Sargent was also forging a reputation as a painter of Impressionist landscapes and genre subjects.

He spent the summer of 1885 in Broadway, a small village in Worcestershire, where he painted "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" (Tate Gallery, London), a depiction of two small girls in a flower garden. When debuted at the Royal Academy in May of 1887, the paintings bright colors and decorative qualities created a major stir in the British art world. Members of the progressive New English Art Club were especially receptive to the works Impressionist qualities, and as a result, they hailed him as the leader of the so-called "dab and spot school." When "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" was purchased by the Chantrey Bequest for the nation, Sargent's reputation in England was given a further boost.

Sargents Impressionist inclinations were also sparked by his growing relationship with Claude Monet. In 1885, he made what would be the first of several visits to Monets home in Giverny. Indeed, Sargent is believed to have met the Frenchman at the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. However, their friendship did not develop until the mid-1880s, when Sargent began to take a greater interest in painting outdoors. In his well-known canvases, "Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood" (1885; Tate Gallery, London) and "Claude Monet in his Bateau-Atelier" (1887; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), Sargent paid homage to his friend as well as to the very act of painting in the open air. His admiration for Monet and his artistic accomplishments is also revealed by the fact that between 1887 and 1891, Sargent purchased four of his paintings for his personal collection. He visited Monet in Giverny again in 1887, 1888, 1889 and 1891. Monet obviously admired Sargents work as well, for he is known to have hung several of Sargent's paintings in his bedroom, along with other canvases by other artist-friends.

Sargent's popularity in England reached its zenith during the mid-1890s. By this point, the artist had moved away from the sharp lighting of his early portrait work, adopting a softer chiaroscuro and buttery brushwork that enhanced the luxury and grandeur of his portraits. Although his elegance had already been accepted by his patrons, it received "official" recognition in 1897, when Sargent was elected an academician of both the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the National Academy of Design in New York.

Yet despite his overwhelming success as an international portraitist, Sargents artistic concerns eventually began to move in another direction. In 1906, he abandoned formal portraiture in order to concentrate on plain air landscapes and genre subjects, as well as his mural work. He spent the remainder of his career making extended painting trips to France, Italy, Switzerland and elsewhere, often accompanied by an entourage that included his sister Emily and her friend Eliza Wedgewood, and his good friend, the painter Wilfrid de Glehn and his wife, the painter Jane Emmet.

Many of the works produced on these trips were executed in watercolor, a medium in which Sargent excelled. John Singer Sargent died in London in 1925, the evening before he was scheduled to depart for another trip to Boston. One of America's most celebrated painters, his work is represented in major public collections throughout England, the United States and elsewhere, including the Brooklyn Museum; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia; the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Royal Portrait Gallery in London, to name only a few

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, S-Z):
Gifted with both technical dexterity and a brilliant sense of mood, color, and light, John Singer Sargent achieved fame and fortune in Europe and the United States as the preeminent society portraitist of the Gilded Age. In addition to his commissioned portraits, he completed several high-profile mural projects in the Boston area and deftly captured the landscapes and architecture of Europe in hundreds of impressionistic plein-air watercolors.

Sargent was born in Florence in 1856 to American expatriate parents. Both of Sargent’s parents came from well-connected, wealthy families in New England and Philadelphia. At the behest of his wife, Mary, FitzWilliam Sargent abandoned his career as a surgeon to travel continually from one European city to the next. Sargent, their eldest surviving child, grew up amid the finest art and culture Europe had to offer, and he displayed a precocious talent for drawing. As a teenager in Rome, he studied with German-American painter Carl Welsch. He later enrolled in the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. The Sargent family supported his decision to become an artist by moving to Paris in 1874 so that he could pursue further training.

In Paris, Sargent was quickly accepted into the studio of Charles-Emile-Auguste Durand, (known as Carolus-Duran), a master of portraiture who was known among French academic painters for his fluid brushwork and unorthodox practice of painting tonal masses and planes directly on canvas instead of painting from preparatory sketches. Although Carolus-Duran’s aesthetic and practices strongly shaped Sargent’s style, the young artist was also eager to sharpen his natural talent for draftsmanship. In October 1874 he gained acceptance to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study drawing; at the same time, he continued his training with Carolus-Duran.

Sargent traveled to the United States for the first time in 1876—the trip allowed him to claim his American citizenship. In the late 1870s and early 1880s, as he began to establish himself as a Paris-based portraitist, Sargent traveled to Brittany, Venice, and other locales where he painted scenes of street and folk life. One of these paintings, "Oyster Gathers of Cancale" (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.) launched his public career when it won honorable mention at the 1878 Salon in Paris. The award was the first of many prizes and honors.

Among Sargent’s early commissions were "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" (1882; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and full-length portrait of society beauty Madame Pierre Gautreau titled "Madame X" (1884; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The frank sensuality of "Madame X" stirred up so much controversy that Sargent left Paris for London, thereafter his permanent home base.

In London, Sargent became the leading portrait painter among upper class families—both British and American. Elegant and flattering, Sargent’s portraits also excelled at captured complex nuances of the sitters’ personalities. A painting trip to Boston and New York from 1887 to 1888 led to a major mural commission for the Boston Public Library, followed by other mural commissions for the Boston Museum of Fine Art and Harvard University’s Widener Library. As a mark of his trans-Atlantic success, Sargent attained academician status in the both the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the National Academy of Design in New York in 1897.

At the same time that he was making his name with commissioned portraiture, Sargent developed ties to Impressionist painters and a strong interest in plein-air painting. Beginning in 1885, the artist made regular trips to Giverny and formed a friendship of mutual admiration with Claude Monet. The twilit garden scene "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" (1886; Tate Gallery, London) exemplifies Sargent’s work in an Impressionist vein. By 1906, Sargent had grown tired of dealing with the demands of his moneyed patrons and he shifted his focus to landscapes and genre subjects of his own choosing. Sargent traveled frequently, and masterful watercolors of his destinations in France, Italy, and Switzerland dominated his later work.

Sargent died in London in 1925, on the eve of an American trip. His work is represented in major public collections in the United States, England, and beyond, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art; Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and London’s Tate Gallery and Royal Portrait Gallery.

© Copyright 2007 Hollis Taggart Galleries

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.:
John Singer Sargent is considered worldwide one of the finest, inspired and most important American expatriate painters of the 19th and early 20th centuries. He was a master of the bravura brushstroke in oil and an exquisite draftsman whose drawings and watercolors were completed with simplicity and fluid splendor.

The portraiture of Whistler and Sargent were in great demand by members of high society worldwide during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and together with Boldini, the threesome formed a triumvirate that was internationally influential and respected. Among Sargent’s most famous devotees were Sorolla y Bastida, Anders Zorn, John Lavery, Irving Wiles and Albert Besnard but his influence was extremely wide spread.

Born in Florence, Italy in 1856 of American parents, he had a Paris address until 1886 and then London. Sargent studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence (1871-1872); the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris; privately with Leon Bonnat and Carolus-Duran in Paris (until 1879).

He was an Associate (1891) and Academician (1897) of the National Academy in New York; a member of the Mural Painters; Portrait Painters; Copley Society (Boston); Society of American Artists; Paris Society of American Painters; Royal Academy, London (Assoc. 1894; R.A. 1897) and the Society Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris. He won his first award at the Paris Salon (1878) and continued to win gold medals and honors throughout his life.

Sargent is represented in the permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Corcoran Gallery of Art; National Gallery of art; Museum of F.A. Boston; Terra Museum of American Art; Whitney Museum; Isabella Stewart Gardner museum; Boston Public Library (murals); Art Institute of Chicago; Brooklyn Museum; Luxembourg Museum, Paris; Tate Gallery, London; Harvard University (murals); Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy; Clark Art Institute; PAFA; and hundreds more.

Submitted by P.J. Pierce

Biography from The Caldwell Gallery - I:
John Singer Sargent was one of America’s most important expatriate artists. All of his studies were abroad at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence (1871-72), Ecole Des Beaux Arts (1874) and privately with Leon Bonnat and Carolus-Duran. His study under Carolus-Duran, whose work was fashionable yet adventurous, was a blend of brio and tightly handled Realism that deeply affected Sargent. He became a master of bravura brushwork in oils.

His portraiture, during the “Golden Age” of the late 19th and early 20th century, was in greater demand in high society than any other. Sargent’s work bears stylistic affinities with his contemporaries Whistler and Boldini, who together formed a triumvirate which became highly influential on an international scale.

By 1883 Sargent had hoped to expand his portrait trade but was hindered in Paris by the uproar over his painting “Portrait of Mme. X” (1884, Metropolitan). This work was an unsettlingly accurate portrayal of a notorious and exotic beauty which became rather scandalous. Therefore, Sargent moved to London in 1885 and stayed there until his death.

His career had peaked in the early 1900s; he had painted over 100 portraits, earned a substantial fortune and received many prizes and awards. He turned to landscape watercolor painting for pleasure and partially to avoid further commissions. These works resulted in beautiful observations with a glimpse of the dynamism between light and color.

Sargent died in 1925 in London.


Biography from Spanierman Gallery:
Recognized as the leading portraitist in England and the United States at the turn of the century, John Singer Sargent was acclaimed for his elegant and very stylish depictions of high society. Known for his technical precocity, he shunned traditional academic precepts in favor of a modern approach towards technique, color and form, thereby making his own special contribution to the history of grand manner portraiture.

A true cosmopolite, he was also a painter of plein air landscapes and genre scenes, drawing his subjects from such diverse locales as England, France, Italy and Switzerland. In so doing, Sargent also played a vital role in the history of British and American Impressionism.

Sargent was born in Florence in 1856. He was the first child of Dr. Fitzwilliam Sargent, a surgeon from an old New England family, and Mary Newbold Singer, the daughter of a Philadelphia merchant. His parents were among the many prosperous Americans who adopted an expatriate lifestyle during the later nineteenth century. Indeed, Sargent’s family traveled constantly throughout the Continent and in England, a mode of living that enriched Sargent both culturally and socially. He ultimately became fluent in French, Italian and German, in addition to English.

Having developed an interest in drawing as a boy, Sargent received his earliest formal instruction in Rome in 1869, where he was taught by the German-American landscape painter Carl Welsch. Following this, he attended the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence during 1873-74.

In the spring of 1874, Sargent’s family moved to Paris, enabling him to continue his training there. He soon entered the studio of Charles-Emile-Auguste Carolus-Duran. In contrast to most French academic painters, Carolus-Duran taught his students to paint directly on the canvas, capturing the essence of his subject through relaxed brushwork, a tonal palette and strong chiaroscuro. Although Sargent also spent four years studying drawing under Léon Bonnat at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, it was Carolus-Duran’s approach that would form the aesthetic basis of his style.

Upon his teacher’s advice, Sargent also traveled to Spain and Holland to study the work of old master painters such as Diego Velázquez and Frans Hals, both of whom also employed deft, fluid techniques.

In 1876, Sargent made his first visit to the United States, claiming his American citizenship and visiting the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. One year later, he spent the summer in Cancale, in France’s Brittany region, where he painted outdoors, applying Carolus-Duran’s strategies to portrayals of fishing folk on sunlit beaches. His reputation in Paris was established in 1878 when his Oyster Gatherers of Cancale (1878; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) won an Honorable Mention at that year’s Salon.

During the early 1880s, Sargent began making painting trips abroad, working in Venice in 1880 and 1882, where he painted street scenes and interiors notable for their brilliant play of light and shadow. He also embarked on what would be a lucrative career as a portraitist, producing such well known works as The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

His early commissions also included an image of Madame Pierre Gautreau. A renowned beauty and member of Parisian society, Madame Gautreau was known for her bold, unorthodox approach towards fashion. In her portrait, entitled "Madame X" (1884; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Sargent effectively captured her distinctive aura. However, his daring realism, coupled with fact that he portrayed a diamond shoulder strap falling off one of her shoulders, caused such an uproar that his career in France was seriously compromised.

As a result of the controversy surrounding "Madame X,"Sargent left Paris in 1886, settling permanently in London. He subsequently flourished in the English capital, becoming the leading portrait painter to the upper classes. Those who shared Sargent’s sense of refinement and sophistication, as well as his international viewpoint, were especially drawn to his fashionable French style.

In addition to patronage from such prominent British families as the Wertheimers and the Marlboroughs, Sargent received an equal number of American commissions, many of them secured by artists and architects he had met during his student days in Paris, among them painters J. Carroll Beckwith and Julian Alden Weir and architect Stanford White. On a painting tour to America during 1887-1888, he portrayed members of notable families from Boston and New York, including Mrs. Jacob Wendell and Elizabeth Allen Marquand. Like their British counterparts, Sargent’s American patrons were drawn to his distinctive style. However, his solid New England ancestry also worked to his advantage, helping him to establish connections in upper class society.

Interest in his work in Boston was given further impetus by a solo exhibition of his paintings at the St. Botolph Club in 1888. Two years later, Sargent became involved with the mural decorations for the Boston Public Library, a project that would occupy him until 1919. He went on to execute murals for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1916-25) and for the Widener Library at Harvard University (1921-22).

At the same time that he was moving to the forefront of portraiture, Sargent was also forging a reputation as a painter of Impressionist landscapes and genre subjects. He spent the summer of 1885 in Broadway, a small village in Worcestershire, where he painted "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" (Tate Gallery, London), a depiction of two small girls in a flower garden. When debuted at the Royal Academy in May of 1887, the painting’s bright colors and decorative qualities created a major stir in the British art world. Members of the progressive New English Art Club were especially receptive to the work’s Impressionist qualities, and as a result, they hailed him as the leader of the so-called "dab and spot school." When "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" was purchased by the Chantrey Bequest for the nation, Sargent’s reputation in England was given a further boost.

Sargent’s Impressionist inclinations were also sparked by his growing relationship with Claude Monet. In 1885, he made what would be the first of several visits to Monet’s home in Giverny. Indeed, Sargent is believed to have met the Frenchman at the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. However, their friendship did not develop until the mid-1880s, when Sargent began to take a greater interest in painting outdoors.

In his well known canvases, "Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood" (1885; Tate Gallery, London) and "Claude Monet in his Bateau-Atelier" (1887; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), Sargent paid homage to his friend as well as to the very act of painting in the open air. His admiration for Monet and his artistic accomplishments is also revealed by the fact that between 1887 and 1891, Sargent purchased four of his paintings for his personal collection. He visited Monet in Giverny again in 1887, 1888, 1889 and 1891. Monet obviously admired Sargent’s work as well, for he is known to have hung several of Sargent’s paintings in his bedroom, along with other canvases by other artist-friends.

Sargent’s popularity in England reached its zenith during the mid-1890s. By this point, the artist had moved away from the sharp lighting of his early portrait work, adopting a softer chiaroscuro and buttery brushwork that enhanced the opulence and grandeur of his portraits. Although his aesthetic had already been accepted by his patrons, it received "official" recognition in 1897, when Sargent was elected an academician of both the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the National Academy of Design in New York.

Yet despite his overwhelming success as an international portraitist, Sargent’s artistic concerns eventually began to move in another direction. In 1906, he abandoned formal portraiture in order to concentrate on plein air landscapes and genre subjects, as well as his mural work. He spent the remainder of his career making extended painting trips to France, Italy, Switzerland and elsewhere, often accompanied by an entourage that included his sister Emily and her friend Eliza Wedgewood, and his good friend, the painter Wilfrid de Glehn and his wife, the painter Jane Emmet. Many of the works produced on these trips were executed in watercolor, a medium in which Sargent excelled.

John Singer Sargent died in London in 1925, the evening before he was scheduled to depart for another trip to Boston. One of America’s most celebrated painters, his work is represented in major public collections throughout England, the United States and elsewhere, including the Brooklyn Museum; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia; the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Royal Portrait Gallery in London, to name only a few.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, R-Z):

John Singer Sargent 1856-1925

Gifted with both technical dexterity and a brilliant sense of mood, color, and light, John Singer Sargent achieved fame and fortune in Europe and the United States as the preeminent society portraitist of the Gilded Age. In addition to his commissioned portraits, he completed several high-profile mural projects in the Boston area and deftly captured the landscapes and architecture of Europe in hundreds of impressionistic plein-air watercolors.

Sargent was born in Florence in 1856 to American expatriate parents. Both of Sargent’s parents came from well-connected, wealthy families in New England and Philadelphia. At the behest of his wife, Mary, FitzWilliam Sargent abandoned his career as a surgeon to travel continually from one European city to the next. Sargent, their eldest surviving child, grew up amid the finest art and culture Europe had to offer, and he displayed a precocious talent for drawing. As a teenager in Rome, he studied with German-American painter Carl Welsch. He later enrolled in the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. The Sargent family supported his decision to become an artist by moving to Paris in 1874 so that he could pursue further training.

In Paris, Sargent was quickly accepted into the studio of Charles-Emile-Auguste Durand, (known as Carolus-Duran), a master of portraiture who was known among French academic painters for his fluid brushwork and unorthodox practice of painting tonal masses and planes directly on canvas instead of painting from preparatory sketches. Although Carolus-Duran’s aesthetic and practices strongly shaped Sargent’s style, the young artist was also eager to sharpen his natural talent for draftsmanship. In October 1874 he gained acceptance to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study drawing; at the same time, he continued his training with Carolus-Duran.

Sargent traveled to the United States for the first time in 1876—the trip allowed him to claim his American citizenship. In the late 1870s and early 1880s, as he began to establish himself as a Paris-based portraitist, Sargent traveled to Brittany, Venice, and other locales where he painted scenes of street and folk life. One of these paintings, Oyster Gathers of Cancale (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.) launched his public career when it won honorable mention at the 1878 Salon in Paris. The award was the first of many prizes and honors.

Among Sargent’s early commissions were The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and full-length portrait of society beauty Madame Pierre Gautreau titled Madame X (1884; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The frank sensuality of Madame X stirred up so much controversy that Sargent left Paris for London, thereafter his permanent home base.

In London, Sargent became the leading portrait painter among upper class families—both British and American. Elegant and flattering, Sargent’s portraits also excelled at captured complex nuances of the sitters’ personalities. A painting trip to Boston and New York from 1887 to 1888 led to a major mural commission for the Boston Public Library, followed by other mural commissions for the Boston Museum of Fine Art and Harvard University’s Widener Library. As a mark of his trans-Atlantic success, Sargent attained academician status in the both the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the National Academy of Design in New York in 1897.

At the same time that he was making his name with commissioned portraiture, Sargent developed ties to Impressionist painters and a strong interest in plein-air painting. Beginning in 1885, the artist made regular trips to Giverny and formed a friendship of mutual admiration with Claude Monet. The twilit garden scene Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (1886; Tate Gallery, London) exemplifies Sargent’s work in an Impressionist vein. By 1906, Sargent had grown tired of dealing with the demands of his moneyed patrons and he shifted his focus to landscapes and genre subjects of his own choosing. Sargent traveled frequently, and masterful watercolors of his destinations in France, Italy, and Switzerland dominated his later work.

Sargent died in London in 1925, on the eve of an American trip. His work is represented in major public collections in the United States, England, and beyond, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art; Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and London’s Tate Gallery and Royal Portrait Gallery.


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John Sargent is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
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