Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Salon: A Favorite Painting or Two.....or Three!


The Spanish Dancer

The Children of Asher Wertheimer

A Dinner Table At Night

The Sitwell Family

Madame X, the scandalous painting that drove Sargent's move to London from Paris. The over-sized portrait hung in Sargent's studio until he sold it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few years before his death.

Sargent in his studio with the infamous portrait.

Lady Agnew of Lohnaw

Mrs. Joshua Montgomery Sears

Portait of famed actress Ellen Terry in her Lady MacBeth costume. In her Jack the Ripper mystery, author Marantz Cohen sets a conversation between James and Sargent in the studio, at the time of Terry's sitting.

Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner, art patron.

Portrait of Louise Pomeroy.

An artist in his studio - might be a self-portrait.

Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Portrait of Coventry Patmore.

Smoke of Ambergris

Two Women Asleep in A Punt Under the Willows
Paul-Cesar Helleu Sketching With His Wife. That pinky!

American John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925) , "...the greatest society portrait painter of his time." is one of my very favorite artists. His elegant, often larger than life portrait work remains unequaled, far as I'm concerned. One sees majesty in Sargent's paintings and even now, when majesty appears to have gone by the wayside, it is thrilling to find it in Sargent's work.

Sketch of his friend, author Henry James, by Sargent.

We've spoken about Sargent before, but my feeling is that you can never have too much of a good thing. Having recently read the wonderful book, WHAT ALICE KNEW A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper by Paula Marantz Cohen, a mystery in which John Singer Sargent plays a small role, I realized that another, more comprehensive, showing of Sargent's work was overdue.


John Singer Sargent was an American born to ex-pat parents in Florence, Italy in 1856. His parents continued to live and travel abroad after Sargent's mother suffered a breakdown upon the death, in America, of  his sister.

Sargent's facility for drawing with a loaded brush - derived from Diego Velazquez - and avoiding the well established rule of sketching and under-painting, made him the object of criticism from some quarters, but on the whole he was a well established and admired painter who glamorized the age he lived in.. Later in life he tired of the portrait business and began concentrating on landscapes and watercolor. Though the high prices he asked for and received for his portrait work had made him a wealthy man.

A life long bachelor, Sargent's sexuality is debated even to this day.  He lived long enough to see his style of painting go out of fashion. How galling for an artist of his genius to realize he'd outlived his welcome. 

Today Sargent's prodigous talent is once again revered.

To read more about Sargent and his work, please use this link.


  1. I always love looking at Sargent's paintings. Isn't Ellen Terry's costume fabulous? I think I need one of my own! :-)

    Have you read Strapless? It's about Sargent and the real Madame X. The descriptions made me want to visit New Orleans (Madame X's hometown). Still haven't made it, but it's on the to-visit list.

  2. Have you ever read the book I Am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto? It's a fictionalized story about that painting told from the PoV of Virginie Gautreau

  3. I love Sargent's paintings too - one of my favourites is the one of two little girls holding lanterns and entitled Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. I really enjoy your Saturday Salon posts.

  4. Lauren, that costume looks mighty heavyweight to me. And those sleeves! Imagine trying to eat with all that fabric flopping down over everything. As you can see I like my romance drenched with practicality. Ha!

    I'm adding the book title to my tbr list. Thanks.

    What I'm really looking for is a good bio of Sargent.

  5. I'll add that title to my tbr list as well, Red. Thanks!

  6. Thanks, Rosemary. I know the painting you mean, it's a charmer. The use of light is wonderful.

    I sort of wanted to do a mix of Sargent's lesser knwown work with one of his most notorious.

    Though 'Repose' is pretty well known, I suppose.

  7. Sargent is my Hero as Artist's go.
    I have the coffe table book on him LOVE LOVE his work. Madame X is fabulous. He had Drama in his work.


  8. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I used to go to the Carnegie Museum and visit Sargent's Portrait of a Boy, 1890. It's quite a revelation to stand before an actual Sargent painting and see the brush strokes. The boy in that particular painting has patent leather shoes, and the reflection was achieved by one brush stroke of white paint that was obviously a quick swipe, a gash done in a second. When you see a beautiful portrait, and then a detail like that, you know you're in the presence of genius.

  9. Those luminous, brilliant whites usually give Sargent away.

    If you ever go to Boston, go to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. It's an amazing museum in itself, the building being like a Venetian palace, with interior, enclosed courtyard. It was a favorite place of mine when I lived in & near Boston. I was lucky enough to have visited it many times before the famous art heist, still unsolved.

    In addition to many world class paintings, they have eight or so Sargents, including the one of Mrs. Gardner. And it's only a few short blocks from the Museum of Fine Art. (I just discovered that the Gardner museum web site has a searchable artist data base, so you can see the paintings they have from the comfort of your own computer.)

  10. I was spellbound by "An artist in his studio" - the painting within the painting is quite extraordinary. You can't help looking at the one Sargent is painting, can you? It does look like a self-portrait.

  11. Yvonne, I have that book as well. A definite must-have. Yes, for me, Sargent is on The Top Ten List. I simply adore his work.

    When I think that he worked with a brush full of paint (no under sketching), I am staggered at the talent it must have taken.

  12. Mark: I can imagine. Genius of that stripe does kind of overwhelm one.

    Seeing a painter's brush strokes up close has always been a kind of personal thing for me. It's THERE that you catch a glimpse of the artist as a human being and not just some sort of elusive phantom.

  13. Joan: Thanks for the info on the Gardner Museum. I've never had the privilege of visiting. But I'd heard about the infamous heist.

    I will definitely check their website.

    Sargent with his brilliant whites.

    Manet with his undiluted black.

  14. Prashant: Yes, except that I believe his studio was rather more glamorous than shown here. I also don't think he was bald. But I could definitely be mistaken.

  15. Sargent is definitely among my top ten as well.

  16. We agree, Cathy. He was pure artistic genius.

  17. It was pure artistic genius. Well done.

  18. You can certainly never have too much of Sargent´s paintings!

    His way of painting women´s dresses is incredible.

  19. Fabulous post! I love Sargent's paintings and I've always wondered how "Madame X" had such a small waist! I'd also love to read his biography--please let me know if you find a good one.

  20. Dorte: I like how he always made his sitters look larger than life. It added to their importance.

  21. Will do, Pat. I'm still trying to get my hands on one. I adore Sargent's work, needless to say.

    And thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :)


Your comment will appear after I take a look.