Mrs. George Batten (Mabel Veronica Hatch), ca. 1897 I was…

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Mrs. George Batten (Mabel Veronica Hatch), ca. 1897

I was browsing through the Sargent paintings at, looking at all the commissioned portraits, and thinking how they tend to follow a certain pattern: Attractive young woman (frequently, an American heiress married to European nobility to save the estate à la Downton Abbey), standing in an awesome dress while staring boldly at the viewer. And then I came across this one, and thought: Whoa. That’s different. Did some wealthy woman actually choose to be painted having an orgasm?

The wikipaintings page doesn’t tell much about the work, other than the name of the subject. But the page for the painting has a more descriptive title, and some awesome details:

Mrs George Batten Singing

John Singer Sargent — American painter

c. 1897 

Glasgow Museums: Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove

Oil on Canvas

Signed and Inscribed across upper edge: To Mrs. Batten John S. Sargent

Mrs. Batten (nee Mabel Veronica Hatch, c. 1857-1915) was the daughter of an upper-class military family, and grew up for a time in India. There she met and married George Batten, an older military officer, and later they moved to London. In 1908 she began a lesbian affair with the author Marguerite Radclyffe Hall. She was a talented amateur mezzo-soprano. Sargent admired her and presented her with this portrait.

Ah. The portrait wasn’t a commission, but something Sargent was inspired to paint on his own. And she’s singing. But maybe I can be forgiven for missing that on my first viewing, since Sargent has so beautifully captured a moment of (musical) passion that is at least ambiguous in tone. And I have to think it not an accident that he chose to celebrate her being carried away by the emotion of the piece she was singing, just as she apparently was carried away by a romance that I assume caused a stir among her Victorian contemporaries.

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lies: nataliakoptseva: John Singer Sargent All the…

Thursday, August 29th, 2013



John Singer Sargent

All the Sargent.

Reblogging myself to add more about the painting:

Gladys Vanderbilt, 1906

Gladys Moore Vanderbilt was born in 1886, the youngest of seven siblings. She was a member of the wealthy New York Vanderbilts, great-granddaughter of shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. She turned 20 the year this portrait was painted.

Two years later, on January 27, 1908, she married a Hungarian count, László Széchenyi. She was 22, he was 28. The wedding took place in New York, and was much discussed in the Times. This article [PDF] ran the day before the wedding:

Long and Illustrious Record of the Ancient Hungarian Family Into Which Mis Gladys Vanderbilt will be Married To-morrow

The wedding of Count Laszlo Széchényi and Miss Gladys Moore Vanderbilt will take place precisely at 12 to-morrow in the large ballroom of Mrs. Vanderbilt’s New York home, at Fifty-eighth Street and Fifth Avenue. Mgr. Lavelle of St. Patrick’s Cathedral will be the only clergyman, and the ceremony is to be the simplest possible. It will be followed at 12:30 by the breakfast for 150 guests…

Miss Gladys Moore Vanderbilt is the sixth and youngest child of the late Cornelius Vanderbilt. Her mother was a Miss Gyynne, a member of a Western family. All her brothers and sisters but one are living… Despite their large wealth and their two magnificently appointed houses — palaces rather — in Newport and New York, Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt never gave elaborate or large entertainments or assumed any place as leaders in any sense in society. They were devoted churchgoers, most simple and unaffected in their tastes, and brought up their children in the same fashion.

It was not until Miss Gladys Vanderbilt made her debut two or three years ago that Mrs. Vanderbilt gave a large dance at her town house. The death shortly after of her brother, Edward Gwynne, threw her again into mourning, and it was not only the first but the last large entertainment in town. Since the death of Cornelius Vanderbilt several years ago she has, with Miss Gladys, spent much time abroad.

The next day’s paper carried a full account of the wedding, including illustrations, play-by-play of the ceremony, and a lengthy guest list: Miss Vanderbilt Now a Countess [PDF]. An excerpt:

Her wedding day was cloudless. The ceremony was of the simplest character, and was witnessed by more than 400 relatives and friends of the two families.

Immediately after the wedding breakfast the Count and Countess left for their honeymoon. To say that they left precipitately is keeping strictly to the truth. They gave the slip to a small army of reporters and photographers who had formed a cordon around the house, bent on capturing the bridal pair for an instant.

With much ostentation a Vanderbilt brougham was driven up to the Fifty-seventh Street entrance, and this was accepted instantly as the signal that the bridal pair would come out there. Perched on the box were a coachman and a footman in the Vanderbilt livery of dark crimson with claret-colored collar.

Within a few seconds the light brigade of reporters and snap-shotters had concentrated its whole force in range of that showy brougham. Every foot of available space was pre-empted and every vantage point filled.

With this snare set, Alfred G. Vanderbilt suddenly drove up to the Fifty-eighth Street entrance in a big Limousine touring car. Just as the car came to a halt, the doors swung open and down the steps tripped the bride with the Count in a big overcoat and derby hat close behind.

Almost before it dawned on the throngs about the house that it was the bride and bridegroom the door of the touring car had slammed shut and the big machine was scooting through Fifty-eighth Street toward Lexington Avenue. Less than two minutes later it had vanished from sight. An hour later the foremost of the pursuing vehicles reported that it had lost track of the bridal couple in Mott Haven.

The couple went on to have five children, all daughters. They spent most of their time in Hungary, where the Count owned two great estates. He died in 1938 at the age of 59. The Countess lived another 27 years, dying in 1965 in Washington, D.C., on the day after what would have been her 57th wedding anniversary.

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not-ideal: John Singer Sargent, “Street in Venice” (1882) – oil…

Thursday, April 25th, 2013


John Singer Sargent, “Street in Venice” (1882) – oil on wood. Currently in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Yes, the two men on the right are somewhat creepy. Yes, she’s walking away fast, it seems. I didn’t even notice that stuff at first – I was transfixed by the way light hit the stone.

Re-blogging because ibmiller’s museum-mate cosplayed the lady in this painting for my benefit, and now that I have a better view I appreciate her interpretation even more.

Okay; NOW I’m done spamming you with Sargent.

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paintingbox: John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925), Two…

Thursday, April 25th, 2013


John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925), Two Octopi, 1875. Oil on canvas, 40.6 x 32.1 cm. (15.98 x 12.64 in.)

Wow. What didn’t he paint?

(BTW, this ends my Sargent post-a-thon. Back to the usual inanity.)

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

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

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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John Singer Sargent Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892-1893 From an…

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

John Singer Sargent

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892-1893

From an essay by Natasha Wallace at

In late 1892 John began work on the portrait of Lady Agnew, commissioned by Andrew Noel Agnew, a barrister who had inherited the baronetcy and estates of Lochnaw in Galloway. The sitter was to be of his young wife, Gertrude Vernon (1865-1932)…

Both Charteris and Richard Ormond with Elaine Kilmurry talk in their books about the nervous energy of the women in Sargent’s portraits. Lady Agnew is no exception here. Although she sits with a total comfortable familiarity with her surroundings and takes ownership of the room — the “languid pose”, her back to the corner of the chair, leg crossed and angled from her left to right, there is an energy (subtle though it is) which is palatable. 

Besides the mouth and her cocked eyebrow, I notice also the hand that grips the chair, the ever so slight downward tilt of Lady Agnew’s head (contrasted by the hint of upward tilt to Madame X’s — although it actually dosen’t) — the tension here is undeniable. 

The thing that strikes me over and over about his life is that John Sargent loved women — women who were strong in character, intelligent and of course beautiful women. He didn’t feel threatened by strong women (as some men can), and above all he truly enjoyed their presence. Yet John was not, by anyone’s measure, a wilting violet. In fact, he was a true man’s man (this comes from many sources) — over six feet tall and strong in physique and sporting a full beard. His constitution was incredible and he could push himself hard in work and he did. He was extremely bright, well read, and seemed to retain everything he read. He was opinionated, yet self abasing, and his manner was charming and humorous, though often incredably shy around those he didn’t know. He was a skilled pianist and played often for friends and played while painting with sitters, moving back and forth between piano and painting. It was from music that he seemed to draw his energy for painting and it was music that occupied many of his sittings…

Although I can not speak with authority here, to me, the painting of Lady Agnew shows John at one of his best and is among my personal favorites. Like Madame X, Lady Agnew shows herself to be confident in her ability, bright and comfortable in her femininity — almost post-feminist — a very modern woman (hey, it’s my opinion).

Can you imagine John Sargent in his studio sitting across from her? Can you see him playing on a piano, then moving between music and portrait working in bursts between Mozart and an inspiration as he paints her? I can. Lady Agnew is looking right at him. And it is through him that she looks at us.

Are John Singer Sargent’s portraits too flattering? Is this one too evocative? Or is it the subtle interplay between a beautiful woman sitting before a very charming man — faithfully captured — truthfully told?

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ibmiller: Not as cool as Lies’ reblog of Julianne Moore doing…

Thursday, April 25th, 2013


Not as cool as Lies’ reblog of Julianne Moore doing some Sargent, but here’s my buddy and me in the National Gallery enjoying our newfound love for the dude’s paintings.

This is awesome and adorable. Thank you for feeding my Sargent mania!

I love how you both matched the subjects in your respective paintings. Spontaneous high-art cosplay FTW!

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Pretty dresses at the Getty, third of three. From the Getty…

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Pretty dresses at the Getty, third of three. From the Getty placard:

Portrait of Thérèse, Countess Clary Aldringen (1896)

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925)

Oil on canvas

As if about to speak, Countess Clary Aldringen (1867-1930) invites the viewer to enter her space (actually Sargent’s London studio, complete with stage props). The white satin gown — with wide sleeves emphasizing her lithe figure — is rendered with Sargent’s bravura technique, painted at lightning speed at the height of his career. Commissioned by the sitter’s husband, while he was counselor to the Austro-Hungarian Embassy in London, for the family castle in Czechoslovakia, the portrait exemplifies the international quality of Sarget’s practice, as well as why Rodin called him “the Van Dyck of our times.”

Lent by Renée and Lloyd Greif

[me again]

There’s an interesting article about Sargent, and this painting, at the Getty web site: 85 Years after John Singer Sargent. Another site dedicated to Sargent has a page that gives this provenance for the painting:

Formerly in the collection of Aldringe, Clara, Countess, until 1930.

Latour, Henri de Baillet, Countess, 1930-1945.

Anonymous collection, 1945.

Unknown collection,

Sotheby’s, New York, New York Sale (Nov. 22, 1988), lot 56.

If I’m reading that correctly, it says that the painting belonged to Thérèse (the lady in the painting) from the time it was painted (when she was 29) until her death at 63. It then passed to a different countess, the wife of Count Henri de Baillet-Latour, a Belgian aristocrat who was the third president of the International Olympic Committee, and whose tenure including presiding over the controversial 1936 Berlin Olympics. He died in 1942, and if my guess is correct his wife survived him by three years, until 1945, when she died and the painting passed through a couple of unspecified owners until it was sold at auction to its current owners, the Greifs, in 1988.

I spent a while staring at that strand of pearls on the dress’s bodice. I don’t know what you would even call that sort of jewelry, but then I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the adornments of 18th-century aristocrats. But I thought it was pretty.

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