Sargent’s 1918 The Black Brook, c. 1908, oil on…

Sargent’s 1918

The Black Brook, c. 1908, oil on canvas

Henry Tonks, 1918, pencil and ink on paper

The Road, 1918, oil on canvas

Crashed Aeroplane, 1918, watercolor on paper

Street in Arras, 1918, watercolor on paper

Thou Shalt Not Steal, 1918, watercolor on paper

Gassed, 1919, oil on canvas

John Singer Sargent never married or had children, but he was fond of his niece, Rose-Marie Ormond. He painted her several times, including in The Black Brook, when she would have been about 18. Ten years later, on March 29, 1918, Rose-Marie was attending a Good Friday service at the church of St. Gervais in Paris when a German shell struck the building, killing her along with about 70 others.

Sergent, who was 62 at the time, was deeply affected by her death. In May he accepted a commission from the British War Memorials Committee to create paintings in support of the British and American war effort, and in July he traveled to the Western Front in the company of artist and surgeon Henry Tonks.

Sargent produced many sketches and paintings based on this trip. The most famous work, Gassed, was completed in March 1919. It is on an epic scale, measuring 7.5 feet high by 20 feet wide, and is housed in the Imperial War Museum in London.

Tonks described the scene on which the painting was based in a letter  in March 1920:

After tea we heard that on the Doullens Road at the Corps dressing station at le Bac-du-sud there were a good many gassed cases, so we went there. The dressing station was situated on the road and consisted of a number of huts and a few tents. Gassed cases kept coming in, lead along in parties of about six just as Sargent has depicted them, by an orderly. They sat or lay down on the grass, there must have been several hundred, evidently suffering a great deal, chiefly I fancy from their eyes which were covered up by a piece of lint… Sargent was very struck by the scene and immediately made a lot of notes.

Gassed was voted picture of the year by the Royal Academy of Arts in 1919.

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Tags: john singer sargent, gassed, world war i, rose-marie ormond.

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