John Singer Sargent (American,1856–1925) - An American in Europe

I wanted to highlight some of the paintings of one of America's premiere portrait painter's, Mr. John Singer Sargent whose watercolors are on view currently at the Brooklyn Museum.I can't wait to go and see these beautiful paintings in person.  I will link to this exhibit at the end of this post.

John Singer Sargent in his studio with his portrait of Madame X behind him. Archived Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Sargent was born to American parents from Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, and spent most of his life in Europe. He was trained in 1873-4 at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, Italy, and until the end of World War I he spent much of his career in Italy, traveling to Capri, Rome, Florence, Siena, and especially Venice. He spent his last decade on commissions for murals; he did not travel to Italy again.

The foremost Anglo-American portrait painter of his time, John Singer Sargent based his career in Paris and London, although he made several extended trips to the United States. In 1874 he entered the atelier of Carolus-Duran (1837-1917) and was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Three years later he began exhibiting at the Paris Salon; in 1878 he received much praise for his The Oyster Gatherers of Cancale, 1878, and the next year won honorable mention for his portrait of his teacher, Carolus-Duran. That year he traveled to Holland and Spain to study the portraits of Frans Hals (1580-1666) and Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) and visited North Africa and Venice. Because of the public scandal when his portrait Madame X, 1884 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), was shown at the Paris Salon of 1884, he moved to England and began exhibiting with the progressive New English Art Club. He spent several summers during the 1880s at the Anglo-American colony of artists and writers in Broadway in the Cotswolds and at Giverny, France, with Claude Monet (1840-1926). 

Sargent became known for a cosmopolitan style of portraiture, depicting his sophisticated, wealthy sitters in harmony with their sumptuous surroundings. In late 1889 he visited New England and New York to fulfill several portrait commissions and while there was selected to paint murals for the Boston Public Library. He then traveled to Egypt to gather material for the murals, to be about the history of Judaism and Christianity. In 1897 he was elected to the Royal Academy. By the early 1900s he had become increasingly bored with portraiture, which in 1907 he all but abandoned, making more modest portrait drawings for his clients while devoting himself increasingly to landscape painting. Watercolor had now become his favorite medium. In London in 1904 he exhibited at the Royal Society of Painters in watercolors and in 1907 at the Pastel Society. In 1916, the year he completed the Boston Public Library decorations, he was commissioned to design murals for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The only significant work from his last years was Gassed, 1918-19 painted for the British Ministry of Information. 

One of his most popular portraits and a favorite of mine, I have been blessed to see many times at 'The Met' museum as we locals like to refer to it! 
Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Graphite on off-white wove paper, archived.

'Madame X' was  Virginie Avegno Gautreau (1859–1915), the Louisana-born wife of a prominent Paris banker, Sargent met in the Autumn of 1882.  He was attracted by her eccentric beauty and asked to paint her portrait. Sittings began in winter 1882–83 and continued through the following summer at the Gautreau vacation home in Brittany. Sargent struggled to find the best pose for his sitter, making more studies than he usually did for a portrait. In this drawing, he rendered her seated on an ornate sofa—a pose he may have considered for the oil portrait or perhaps simply recorded between sittings.
 Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Oil on canvas 
 (an unfinished second version of the same pose is in the Tate Gallery in London).

Another favorite of mine, housed at 'The Met' museum is easily recognizable as well as Madame X. I am proud to say, I now recognize the name's Lady Elcho and Mrs. Tennant  as a direct reference of portrait painter G.F.Watts. 
The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant, 1899
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Oil on canvas 

 Three beautiful daughters of the Hon. Percy Wyndham, a wealthy Londoner, from the left, the sisters are Madeline Adeane (1869–1941), Pamela Tennant (1871–1928), and Mary Constance, Lady Elcho (1862–1937). Rather than conducting sittings at his studio, as he usually did about 1900, Sargent painted the sisters in the drawing room of their family's residence on Belgrave Square. Seen on the dark wall above them is George F. Watts' portrait of their mother, which establishes their genealogy as well as the artist's by reminding the viewer of his ties to painters of the past. Within the bold, asymmetrical composition, Sargent enlisted fluid dynamic brushstrokes to suggest the forms and textures of the opulent white gowns, brocade sofa, and huge white peonies. The elongated figures, so typical of Sargent's style about 1900, enhance the impression of aristocratic elegance. Displayed at the Royal Academy's annual exhibition in 1900, the portrait was hailed by the critics and dubbed "The Three Graces" by the Prince of Wales.

Going back to the current exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, 'Sargent's Watercolors' several of them feature a family member named Rose-Marie Ormond and I wanted to provide just a bit about her here:

Rose-Marie Ormond (1893-1918), was the daughter of John Singer Sargent’s sister, Violet Sargent Ormond, one of his favorite models during his later years. Growing tired of portrait painting, it was around 1908 that Sargent turned to more informal figurative paintings in oil and watercolor. They usually took place while on vacation summering  with the Ormond family in the Alps, near Val d’Aosta and Simplon. Rose-Marie is often draped in shawls, as seen in this watercolor, ‘Rose-Marie Ormond Reading in a Cashmere Shawl’ while the composition is of her reclining in an open landscape. The shawl would have come from Kashmir or from Rose-Marie’s fondness for reading Mughal poetry, Sargent no doubt included the wrap because of its decorative character; and in this watercolor the drape’s ornamental design becomes a maze of loose brush strokes surrounding the figure herself. Sargent found that sketching in watercolor enabled him to combine drawing with painting. Utilizing transparent washes, gouaches, and the white of the paper, Sargent captured the brilliance of reflected sunlight. Rose-Marie’s white dress picks up the blues and browns cast by her surroundings. The colors, flickering sunlight, and mass of zigzag and circular strokes give it an almost circular impression. Sargent gave the painting to Henry Alfred Pegram (1862-1937), a minor English sculptor, and it remained in his family’s possession until acquired by the Los Angeles Country Museum Art Collection in 1991. 

Featured in the exhibit will be:
 John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) painting Rose-Marie Ormond in Simplon Pass: Reading, circa 1911. Opaque and translucent watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 51 x 35.7 cm.

 John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) painting Rose-Marie Ormond in The Cashmere Shawl, circa 1911. Translucent watercolor and touches of opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 50.7 x 35.5 cm

Check out this exhibit as well as more watercolor landscapes by John Singer Sargent at, The Brooklyn Museum


Kevin Marsh said…
What beautiful paintings.
I have not seen many portraits in watercolour before, they are simply stunning. Using this medium the artist can be much more fluid with the interpretation. Oils are not as forgiving.
There is an American Art Museum in Giverny, France with some fantastic paintings by American Artists, No John Singer Sargent though.

Thank you for sharing.

Kind regards
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Kevin,
I haven't seen many portraits in watercolor before, either. I'm really excited to go to the exhibit and see more of his work. I didn't know about the American Art Museum in Giverny. I will add it to the list of things to see when I take my dream trip to France! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

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