dear art historian tumblr: how long did it take John Singer Sargent to complete a painting, on average?

Thursday, October 11th, 2018



i need to know this because of Reasons

@lies I believe this may be your moment

Disclaimer: Not an art historian. Just a Sargent fan.

It’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, because some works (El Jaleo, Gassed) were huge; more than 10 feet long. For works like that, or works where a lot was riding on the painting as he tried to build his reputation, he spent a looooong time. For El Jaleo, one of his first works to catch the attention of the Paris art world, he worked intermittently for nearly two years.

For Madame X he began sketching in June, 1883, and didn’t finish the painting until October or thereabouts, so, five months? After the disastrous reception of Madame X at the 1884 Salon he relocated to England, where his next major work was Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, which he worked on for more than a year, from September 1885 until October 1886. The time on that one was extended by the fact that Sargent chose to paint it en plein air in natural light, and specifically at dusk, when the light that he wanted to capture was just right.

An answer that might come closer to what you’re really after would be, how long did he spend on his commissioned portraits? These were his bread and butter, the type of painting he did under a certain amount of time pressure from a paying customer. There were two phases for these: Phase one was a series of “sittings”, described thusly in the Sargent wikipedia article:

After securing a commission through negotiations which he carried out, Sargent would visit the client’s home to see where the painting was to hang. He would often review a client’s wardrobe to pick suitable attire. Some portraits were done in the client’s home, but more often in his studio, which was well-stocked with furniture and background materials he chose for proper effect.[49] He usually required eight to ten sittings from his clients, although he would try to capture the face in one sitting. He usually kept up pleasant conversation and sometimes he would take a break and play the piano for his sitter. Sargent seldom used pencil or oil sketches, and instead laid down oil paint directly.[50]

He wrote to Ada Rehan (an actress whose portrait he’d been commissioned to paint, and who was anxious about the length of the sittings due to a recent bout of ill health), “I should argue, with more truth than seems likely, that a great many people find it rather a rest to [sit for a portrait] than otherwise, and also that some of my best results have happened to be obtained with a few sittings… (Lady Agnew was done in six sittings), but I always admit beforehand that it may take me much longer.” After the sittings there was then a longer period in which Sargent would finish the portrait; in the case of Rehan’s portrait Sargent worked on the piece from the spring of 1894 until March of 1895, so roughly a year.

Calendar time from start to finish is only one way of looking at it, though. At the peak of his portrait-painting Sargent was producing many portraits each year, so clearly the work on them overlapped.

Also, the monumental portraits were relatively time-consuming compared to smaller paintings. You didn’t specify portraits; you just said “paintings.” So, looking beyond the portraits (which he mostly stopped painting after he closed his studio in 1907), in the course of his career he produced roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors. Ignoring the charcoal and pencil sketches, that makes 2,900 painted works in a career that spanned roughly 45 years. Doing the math on that, and taking no account of time spent traveling/vacationing, it appears that he averaged one finished painting every 5.7 days.

Go John Singer Sargent! Way to paint, dude!

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I thought a lot about color, because I’m a little bit…

Friday, August 4th, 2017

I thought a lot about color, because I’m a little bit obsessed with color. In the opening it’s all color. Right? It’s every color. And that is life, and that is beauty, and if we were living a balanced life. And that was always what I loved about Themiscyra…

And then what was interesting was when we got into man’s world, I didn’t want there to be an overwhelming array of color. And that’s actually true to the period, because paints are limited and pigments are going to be limited back then. And so we really struggled with what is the language of that world vs. Themiscyra, which is this incredible idyllic island-light world.

And we ended up landing on John Singer Sargent, who’s one of my favorite painters. But John Singer Sargent is very modern in a way. He’s very pop in a way. Because he would make these incredibly bold choices where all the shadows go to black, and then only this red stands out, and only this white.

And that really informed everything, it’s like it is, man’s world is much more limited, controlled. It’s within smaller pockets. There’s actually a lot of color. But the color is only blue, gray, not green. You know. It’s like blues, grays, red, and white. And so it was kind of cool to get to dig into suddenly a very controlled palette of life, life as we know it in man’s world.

– Patty Jenkins, The Treatment, June 14, 2017

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ALSO Dad and I went around the rest of the gallery and when we…

Monday, June 19th, 2017

ALSO Dad and I went around the rest of the gallery and when we spotted a wild Sargent we took a picture for you.

(John answers) Wow! Thank you! That’s a lovely painting, and one I wasn’t familiar with. Very different from his portraits; more like the watercolors he liked to do for himself, especially this late in his career.

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fleurdulys:The Black Brook – John Singer Sargent

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015


The Black Brook – John Singer Sargent

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Portrait of Madame X, John Singer SargentMary Kate Wiles…

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

Portrait of Madame X, John Singer Sargent

Mary Kate Wiles February Fashion Video, Christopher Higgins

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The Tates

Thursday, October 9th, 2014




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I’ve previously gushed about how Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children is my favorite parent+kids portrait by Sargent. I’m so envious of you getting to see it in person!

And yes, I’ll definitely add Gwen John’s Self Portrait (1902) to the queue at theselfiemuseum. Thanks!

I remembered you having posted that one. What primarily struck me about it in person was how, in spite of her pink froofy dress and the ribbon in her hair, Mrs. Carl Meyer’s face does not look traditionally “feminine” in that portrait, either by modern standards or compared to women in other paintings from that same time period. I love that the portrait celebrates her without “softening” her face to make her look more like some culturally imposed ideal of womanly beauty. She looks really strong, and so do her children. 

That’s the thing, for me, about Sargent’s portraits. There’s an honesty to them. He obviously was good enough about representing his subjects in a manner that they appreciated that they were willing to pay large amounts to have him paint them, and there were some contemporary critics who sniffed about “flattery”. But I think that was mostly envy.

I believe that in his best work he strove to paint his subjects in a way that honestly reflected their personalities and (in the family portraits) the relationships between them. And this painting is a beautiful example of that.

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celestialmazer: THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF A DRESS Restored dress as…

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014



Restored dress as worn by Ellen Terry in her 1888 portayal of Lady Macbeth.

“When Ellen starred alongside Henry Irving in Macbeth in 1888, there was not a wide choice of fabrics available in England, and Alice could not find the colours she wanted to achieve her effects. She wanted one dress to ‘look as much like soft chain armour as I could, and yet have something that would give the appearance of the scales of a serpent.’ (Mrs. J. Comyns Carr’s ‘Reminiscences’. London: Hutchinson, 1926) Mrs. Nettlship found a twist of soft green silk and blue tinsel in Bohemia and this was crocheted to achieve the chain mail effect.

The dress hung beautifully but: ‘we did not think that it was brilliant enough, so it was sewn all over with real green beetle wings, and a narrow border in Celtic designs, worked out in rubies and diamonds, hemmed all the edges. To this was added a cloak of shot velvet in heather tones, upon which great griffens were embroidered in flame-coloured tinsel. The wimple, or veil, was held in place by a circlet of rubies, and two long plaits twisted with gold hung to her knees.’

the history blog.
the guardian

What Cersei would wear

Thanks for posting this! I love learning more about this dress and its history.

[Now hijacking to gush about the portrait, which fascinates me.]

John Singer Sargent painted Miss Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth in 1889. It was still early in his career as a portraitist; he had largely recovered from the scandal surrounding Portrait of Madame X, but commissions were still relatively few.

He attended the opening night performance of Macbeth and almost immediately began asking Terry if he could paint her in the role. At first she resisted. In January 1889, Sargent wrote to another recent portrait subject (and patron) of his, Isabella Stewart Gardner:

Miss Terry has just come out in Lady Macbeth and looks magnificent in it, but she has not yet made up her mind to let me paint her in one of the dresses until she is quite convinced that she is a success. From a pictorial point of view there can be no doubt about it – magenta hair! 

The play, with Terry as Lady Macbeth, was a sensation, playing to packed houses for more than six months, and Terry soon gave Sargent permission to go ahead. The pose, in which she holds the crown aloft, was Sargent’s invention; it didn’t appear in the play.

The painting was exhibited in the spring of 1889. It created controversy, with some objecting to its realism. The critic for Athenaeum wrote:

The lady raises the crown to her brow with passion which would be quite admissible in the portrait of a fine actress in such a character, if the sensational elements in her acting and the coarseness of her surroundings — down to the blue and green of her robes, layers of stage paint on her face, lips contorted to move the pit, eyes shining in the footlights’ glare — had not been dwelt upon in a way at which the visitor will shudder. This is painting for the pit.

The critic for the Saturday Review wrote:

There is no attempt to idealize the subject, no thought of giving us Lady Macbeth herself; it is strictly and limitedly Miss Ellen Terry in that particular part, made as real underneath her stage artificiality as the painter knows how to make her.

Others were more positive. The Magazine of Art wrote:

No portrait has been exhibited for some years which excels this in grandeur of pose, fineness of modeling, and magnificence of colour.

For herself, Ellen Terry loved the portrait. In her autobiography she wrote:

One of Mrs. Nettle’s greatest triumphs was my Lady Macbeth dress, which she carried out from Mrs. Cosmyn Carr.  I am glad to think it is immortalised in Sargent’s picture.  From the first I knew that picture was going to be splendid.  In my diary for 1888 I was always writing about it:  

“The picture of me is nearly finished, and I think it is magnificent.  The green and blue of the dress is splendid,  and the expression as Lady Macbeth holds the crown over her head is quite wonderful …” 

“Sargent’s picture is almost finished, and it really is splendid.  Burne-Jones yesterday suggested two or three alterations about the colour which Sargent immediately adopted, but Burne Jones raves about the picture …” 

“Sargent’s picture is talked of everywhere and quarrelled about as much as my way of playing the part …” 

“Sargent’s Lady Macbeth in the New Gallery is a great success.  The picture is the sensation of the year.  Of course, opinions differ about it, but there are dense crowds round it day after day.” 

Since then it has gone nearly over the whole of Europe and is now resting for life in the Tate Gallery.  Sargent suggested by this picture all that I should have liked to be able to convey in my acting as Lady Macbeth.

Fun fact: The 10,000 beetle wings sewn into the costume are from Sternocera aequisignata, a green jewel beetle used for traditional beetlewing adornment in Thailand.

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For a lot of people, myself included, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is…

Monday, September 8th, 2014

For a lot of people, myself included, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is the Sargent portrait. And from September through February of next year you can see her in person at the Frick Collection in New York.

ugh. I so want to go.

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gandalf1202: Jean Béraud – Couple Devant use Bijouterie on…

Saturday, June 7th, 2014


Jean Béraud – Couple Devant use Bijouterie on Flickr.

This was given by Jean Béraud to his good friend, Maurice Poirson, an artist in his own right who, tragically, died at an early age and left no heirs. An article in Le Gaulois, published December 16, 1882, describes his passing as a disaster for the art community of Paris. After his death, this painting was left to Maurice’s half-brother, Paul Poirson, as was his studio on the Boulevard Berthier. Paul subsequently rented the studio to John Singer Sargent, from whom he would accept a fine portrait of his wife, Madame Paul Poirson, in lieu of payment. The painting, which likely features the Ravaut jewellery shop which was on Rue de la Paix in Paris, has since been passed down through generations of the Poirson family.

[Sold for $118,750 at Sotheby’s, New York – Oil on canvas, 32.5 x 40.5 cm]

Sargent’s painting of Madame Paul Poirson:

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masterpiecedaily: John Singer Sargent Portrait of Lady…

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014


John Singer Sargent

Portrait of Lady Michaelis


Some googling turned up the following:

  • The date provided by masterpiecedaily is incorrect; although some online sources date the sketch “before 1925”, that’s just because 1925 is the year Sargent died (on April 14, of congestive heart disease, in England). In fact, this sketch (and its companion sketch of Lady Michaelis’ husband, South African financier, mining magnate, and art patron Sir Maximillian Michaelis), were both done in 1914, the date Sargent put next to his signature.
  • The subject’s full name, according to, was Lady Lilian Elizabeth Michaelis.
  • As of the date of that record, the sketch had never been sold, and was owned by Lady Michaelis’ son, Cecil Michaelis.
  • The scan above isn’t doing a very good job of rendering the grays of Sargent’s charcoal sketch; a better scan from is below.

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Sargent and the Burckhardts Valerie Burckhardt, 1878 Edward…

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Sargent and the Burckhardts

Valerie Burckhardt, 1878

Edward Burckhardt1880

Lady with a Rose (Charlotte Louise Burckhardt), 1882

Pointy (Portrait of Louise Burckhardt’s dog), 1885

Mrs. Edward Burckhardt and Her Daughter Louise, 1885

Edward Burckhardt was a well-to-do Swiss merchant; his wife, Mary Elizabeth Burckhardt (née Comes) was American. John Singer Sargent’s parents, expatriate Americans who travelled the European circuit, apparently socialized with the Burckhardts, such that their children knew each other growing up. Sargent was friends with Valerie, the older of the two Burckhardt daughters, and painted her portrait in 1878 while he was still a student in Paris. Valerie would have been about 21 at the time, a year younger than Sargent.

According to some accounts they may have been romantically involved, but if so it didn’t come to anything; two years later, in 1881, Valerie married a Swiss silk merchant named Harold Farquhar Hadden. Sargent presented her with a portrait of her father as a wedding gift.

During 1881 and 1882, Mrs. Burckhardt tried to create a match between Sargent and her younger daughter, Charlotte Louise (who went by her middle name). Louise was 19, Sargent 25. According to Deborah Davis’ book Strapless:

People who knew Louise described her as a pleasant but unremarkable young woman. Some acquaintances even suggested she was a little stupid. Above all, she was a docile and obedient daughter, dedicated to fulfilling her mother’s ambitions for her.

According to Davis, Mrs. Burckhardt actively plotted to bring the two together.

She invited Sargent and his friend James Beckwith to Fontainebleau and other nearby destinations that would remove them from the distractions of Paris. Normally, Sargent seemed to have no time for romance… But this summer was different… He appeared to warm to Louise and actually welcomed opportunities to be alone with her. Beckwith caught them unaccompanied several times — something that would never have happened during those days of constant chaperones if Mrs. Burckhardt had not counted on a wedding in Louise’s immediate future.

Inexplicably, however, Sargent’s interest waned and evaporated completely by the end of the summer. At the very moment when Mrs. Burckhardt felt closest to attaining the prize of a marriage proposal for Louise, the artist baffled her by reverting to his friendly, yet decidedly platonic, relationship with her daughter. Louise confronted him at his studio, hoping for an explanation. Sargent had the difficult task of convincing her that their flirtation, if it could be called that, was over. Their unpleasant conversation was interrupted by Beckwith, who walked in on them and saw that there was “evidence of trouble.” Sargent confessed to him that although he valued her friendship, he didn’t care for Louise in a romantic way.

I wonder what the “evidence of trouble” was. In my imagination, Louise had been visibly crying.

It’s not clear when exactly Sargent began his large, full-length portrait of her, though his work on the painting spanned the time when their on-again, off-again romance was playing out.

The painting came to be called Lady with a Rose.

The amazing thing for me about Sargent’s portraits is the way they communicate their subjects’ humanity. It’s not just a likeness. It’s a person, captured in a particular moment that tells a story. Photography may have replaced painted portraits, but I doubt even a skilled photographer could do what Sargent did, sitting with a subject for hours, even days; conversing, taking breaks at the piano, trying different approaches, and finally choosing one particular moment to commit to canvas.

And Sargent was honest, sometimes brutally so. His realism has gone in and out of fashion, his technique sometimes lauded, sometimes criticized, but his honesty endures.

When I look at Lady with a Rose, I see Louise posing dutifully with one hand on her hip and the other holding up the rose, but her expression has a hint of exasperation. Really, John? I have to hold it like this for how long? Her head tilts a bit, but her gaze is steady, if a bit resigned. And I wonder: Is Sargent depicting the moment in which she finally reconciled herself to the fact that the relationship between them wasn’t going to happen? That this painting of her, with the heavy black dress and the slightly silly pose, chosen by Sargent to echo the Spanish master Velasquez, was all she would be left with for the summer spent with the handsome artist, the friend of her older sister whom she may have spent years quietly admiring?

Sargent entered the painting in the 1882 Paris Salon, and it immediately created a buzz. The young artist’s virtuosic technique, along with the intriguing expression of his subject, captivated viewers. Lady with a Rose made Sargent’s reputation. Along with the other painting he exhibited that year, a dramatic depiction of a Spanish dancer called El Jaleo, it put him in the first rank. Commissions began coming in. Novelist Henry James wrote of the young Sargent that he offered “the slightly ‘uncanny’ spectacle of a talent which on the very threshold of its career has nothing more to learn.”

Three years later Sargent’s fortunes had turned. The scandal that followed the exhibition of Madame X at the 1885 Salon caused his commissions to evaporate. Sargent was in financial difficulty, and reportedly was considering giving up painting altogether. It may have been as a favor to him that his old family friends, the Burckhardts, commissioned a new painting.

First, though, Sargent painted and gave to Louise a painting of her dog, Pointy. I wonder if the white around the muzzle is an indication of Pointy’s age. The name seems like the kind of name a young child would give; Louise was 23 in 1985, but maybe Pointy’s name dated back to a time when she would have given such a name to a pet. And I wonder, too, if the gift was in a small way meant to make amends for what she had been through in 1881-82.

The painting the Burckhardts commissioned was a dual potrait of Louise and her mother. Mrs. Edward Burckhardt and Her Daughter Louise fascinates me. Louise is relegated to the background. At least she gets a more-comfortable pose this time, with her arms resting on the back of her mother’s chair. She still gazes directly at Sargent, but there’s a distance there that wasn’t there in Lady with a Rose. She looks almost startled, or at least somewhat taken aback. In my mind, posing for Sargent has brought her back to an emotional place she would have preferred not to revisit.

Maybe the distance isn’t all on Louise’s side. Maybe Sargent doesn’t want to revisit her face, doesn’t want to repeat himself, to risk falling short of the standard he set in recording the enigmatic expression that so captivated the critics previously. Or maybe he was rushing the depiction of Louise in order to concentrate on the picture’s real focus: her mother.

Mrs. Burckhardt sits for the portrait, but can’t bring herself to look at the artist. She gazes off to the side, outwardly composed, but with the tension visible in the left hand clutching the arm of the chair. And taking the two sitters together, mother and daughter, the story gets stronger: The thwarted matriarch, forced to endure the young man who was the author of her failure, looking away from him and even more, from her daughter, the one who actually suffered most in all this.

I keep coming back to Mrs. Burckhardt’s face, her look of memory and regret.

Four years later Charlotte did marry: an Englishman, Alfred Roger Ackerley. She fell ill with tuberculosis just two years later, though, and died at the age of 30.

Her older sister Valerie outlived them all. She had moved with her husband to New York, and sometime around 1922 she wrote to Sargent, including a photograph of the dual portrait of her mother and Charlotte, but with Charlotte blotted out. Apparently she wanted to know if Sargent would paint over her sister, making the painting a solo portrait of her mother.

Sargent’s reply:

I will return the photographs to you – as I found the composition as a whole is destroyed by taking out such an important part of it and leaving a gap instead. I cannot consent to do that any more than I would wear my hat in a drawing room or eat peas with a knife at dinner.

I wish you would send me a photograph of the picture as it is without the figure of Louise having been taken out. I would know better if anything can be done about it, and also what is wrong.

I know it’s unfair to try to draw a curve through two points, but looking at Louise’s portrait, and then thinking about her desire to have Sargent paint over the image of her dead sister, she doesn’t come across as a very nice person.

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philamuseum: Happy Birthday to John Singer Sargent, born on…

Thursday, March 20th, 2014


Happy Birthday to John Singer Sargent, born on this day in 1856. Although he lived most of his life in Europe, he still considered himself an American. Both of his parents were raised in the United States, and his father actually grew up right here in Philadelphia!

In the Luxembourg Gardens,” 1879, John Singer Sargent

I was looking at this, and it felt super familiar, not just as a painting I’d seen, but as something I’d seen with real, living people. And then I remembered: It looked similar to one of the sets in Matthew Bourne’s recent production of The Sleeping Beauty.

This picture doesn’t show it quite the way I remember it; my memory is that there was an earlier moment that looked exactly like the painting. But now I’m not sure if that’s just my memory twisting things, or if there actually was a moment in the ballet that intentionally referenced the painting.

Probably the former. But still, now I want to see the ballet again. Not that I’d need an excuse. I’ll see anything by Matthew Bourne any chance I get.

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I was playing around in the Street View interface to the…

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

I was playing around in the Street View interface to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I knew they had a lot of Sargents, but I walked into that room and it was like that clip of Bowman’s last transmission from 2010:

My God. It’s full of Sargents.

And not just Sargents, but important Sargents, like Lady with a Rose, Madam X, and Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes. And three more huge, awesome portraits. All in one room.

It’s totally not like being there. But it’s also not like just looking at photos of the paintings online. Because I know that that room exists. A room open to the public. A room people are in right now.

A room I could be in.

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bagarres: fun fact: you can explore museums on google street view  I’d seen this mentioned,…

Friday, February 28th, 2014


fun fact: you can explore museums on google street view 

I’d seen this mentioned, but never actually tried it out. So I did, and one of the first museums I noticed that they had was the Getty in L.A.:


And I thought I recognized the large painting in the thumbnail, so I clicked through, and yeah! They chose to start the Street View tour in front of that Winterhalter painting with the crazy-awesome silk moire patterns that I geeked out about after my visit there:


And then I started getting really excited, because I was pretty sure that the portrait that started my whole Sargent obsession was on the other side of that wall, hanging in the next room behind the Winterhalter. So I hurried through the doorway and turned around and…


Aw, nuts. That’s the painting, of Thérèse, Countess Clary Aldringen, but apparently they didn’t secure the rights from its current owners, the Greif family, so it’s blurred out in Street View.

So I had to go back and stare at the images of it that I posted after my visit.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Looking at images of it on the computer is looking at images of it on the computer. To really feel that rush I probably need to make a trip back to the Getty and see it in person.

But I’m definitely going to spend more time doing the art museum tours in Street View. It has at least a taste of that in-person excitement.

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fleurdulys: Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children – John Singer…

Monday, February 17th, 2014


Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children – John Singer Sargent


Sargent painted a number of portraits showing parents with their children. I love them all, but this one is my favorite.

When you look at a Sargent portrait, you don’t just see a beautiful rendering of the human form dressed in a particular way in a particular place. You see an actual person. You see someone you can imagine talking to, with dreams and opinions and emotions. And when he painted families he captured the relationships, the shared history, frozen at a moment in time.

All these people are gone now. When this portrait was painted Adele Meyer’s two children were 11 years old (the girl, Elsie Charlotte) and 10 (the boy, Frank). Elsie grew up to marry, was widowed, and remarried; Frank fought in World War I and was elected to Parliament in the 1920s before dying in a hunting accident in 1935. The web doesn’t say how or when Adele and Elsie died, though they surely grew old and passed away many years ago.

Yet there they are, alive, in layers of sticky oil on canvas.

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Giovanni Boldini: Portrait of John Singer Sargent, ca. 1890

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Giovanni Boldini: Portrait of John Singer Sargent, ca. 1890

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Lounging in Boats – John Singer Sargent By the River – 1885, oil…

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

Lounging in Boats – John Singer Sargent

By the River – 1885, oil on canvas

Autumn on the River (detail) – 1889, oil on canvas

A Boating Party (detail) – ca. 1889, oil on canvas

Paul Helleu Sketching His Wife – 1889, oil on canvas

Gondoliers’ Siesta (detail) – 1905, watercolor

On the Steps of the Salute (detail) – ca. 1906, watercolor

The Rialto, Venice (detail) – 1909, oil on canvas

Sargent loved to paint his subjects lying in (or occasionally next to) small boats. These are some of my favorites.

Sargent painted By the River when he was 29. He’d achieved early fame as a portraitist a few years before, but since the outcry surrounding Portrait of Madame X in 1884 the commissions had dried up. So he left Paris and spent several years traveling, visiting friends like Henry James in London and Claude Monet in Giverny. Perhaps due in part to the influence of Monet, many of Sargent’s works during this period, including this one, are fairly Impressionist.

I’ve been unable to learn where By the River is set or who the model is, though it certainly looks like Giverny. I love the lavender color, and the birds in the background (which I must reflexively identify as mute swans, Cygnus olor). I also like the detail of the curved oar blade, making it clear what kind of boat this is. Mostly, though, I love the way Sargent conveys mood via details of his subject’s expression and body language.

In Autumn on the RiverSargent painted one of his favorite subjects: his baby sister Violet. Born in 1870, she was 14 years younger than he was, which would have made her about 19 in 1889, when Autumn on the River was painted. Their father, Dr. FitzWilliam Sargent, had died in April of that year, and John had canceled a planned visit to Monet at Giverny to spend time in England with his mother and his two sisters. By now his career as a portraitist had taken off again, with as many commissions as he could handle from wealthy patrons in New York, Boston, and London.

Violet lies back in the boat, wrapped in a dark fur stole and blanket, a gloved hand on the gunwale as she looks out on what I’m guessing is the river Avon (his mother and sisters lived at Fladbury Rectory, Pershore). The cold and the autumn colors make it a somber scene.

A Boating Partyis merrier. Also painted in 1889, it features a woman sitting on a dock (or on a larger boat?), while a young man reclines in a canoe, his leg draped over the gunwale to hold his craft alongside, a paddle in one hand and his other hand behind his head. The woman wears the same hat and stole as Violet does in Autumn on the River, and the sources I’ve read favor the idea that she is, in fact, Violet, which would make it possible that the young man is Francis Ormond, with whom Violet was in a relationship at the time. Their mother did not approve of the match, and had John take Violet with him in December when he traveled to New York, intending for her to be introduced to eligible Americans. The tactic failed, however, and Violet married Ormond two years later.

Paul Helleu Sketching His Wife was also painted in 1889. Helleu was French, but as one of Sargent’s closest friends, I wonder if he and his wife Alice visited Sargent at this time, such that the painting actually depicts the same canoe as the one visible in A Boating Party. It looks similar, at least, and it’s such a lovely view of it, including the reflection in the varnish on the bow, that I had to include this painting in the set, even though Alice is technically not lounging in the canoe, but only alongside it.

Sargent traveled regularly, including visits to Venice in his late 40s/early 50s that inspired him to paint many people lounging in boats, including in Gondoliers’ SiestaOn the Steps of the Salute, and The Rialto, Venice. Carter Ratcliff has written:

Though the Sargent family was not rich by the standards of the Victorian plutocracy, his mother and father had enough money between them to maintain a respectable front in their travels through Italy, Switzerland, and France. Raised amid servants, Sargent took no notice of the poor who so disturbed a democrat and idealist like Burne-Jones. When peasants and workers appear in Sargent’s art, they belong to the scenery.

I’ve cropped in tight on details in these three paintings to highlight those aspects of the scenery.

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John Singer Sargent, Simplon Pass, Reading, 1911 I just learned…

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

John Singer Sargent, Simplon Pass, Reading, 1911

I just learned that there’s an exhibition of Sargent watercolors running now through January 20, 2014, at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. Details: John Singer Sargent Watercolors.

If you live in the Boston area, I so envy you right now.

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A Spanish Woman, John Singer Sargent I thought this looked…

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

A Spanish Woman, John Singer Sargent

I thought this looked unusual for a Sargent, so I looked it up. He painted it early, before he became famous as a portraitist. In 1879, at the age of 23, having completed his instruction at the atelier of Carolus-Duran in Paris, he traveled to Spain. Among the paintings he created based on the trip were this one, and El Jaleo (A Spanish Dancer), both completed in 1882:

El Jaleo created a sensation, and helped to launch Sargent’s career. But A Spanish Woman, with its quiet drama and the strength of its female subject, to my eye foreshadows some of his most memorable portraits from later years.

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Woman with Collie, ca. 1901 John Singer Sargent, watercolor

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Woman with Collie, ca. 1901

John Singer Sargent, watercolor

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