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Artists’ Birthdays: January the 12th – John Singer Sargent (1856)

January 12, 2012

Would you like to know it all? We would! That’s why the theme for our Know It All Section for 2012 is Artists’ Birthdays. We hope that these posts will help to increase our and your knowledge in Art History. Lets get acquainted with more painters, lets recognise their artwork and be inspired by the masterpieces!

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John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925) - Self Portrait, 1906, Oil on Canvas

John Singer Sargent (January 12, 1856 – April 14, 1925) was an American artist, considered the “leading portrait painter of his generation” for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury. He was the most celebrated portraitist of his time, yet left it at the very height of his fame to devote full time to landscape painting, watercolours and public art.

His paintings are really astonishing, they left me speechless… That’s why this time I decided to present only a very brief biography, leaving more space for Sargent’s artwork, that deserves much more attention than it’s given.

Born in 1856, in Florence, Italy, though his parents FitzWilliam and Mary (Singer) were American. John Singer Sargent spent the greater part of his life in Europe, but made frequent short visits to the United States.

Sargent was a born artist – at the age of 9 he was already sketching animals at the Paris Zoo. In 1868-1869 he worked in the studio of Carl Welsch in Rome, then attended school in Florence and took courses at the Accademia delle Belle Arti.

A Street In Venice by John Singer Sargent, 1880-1882, Oil on Canvas

In 1874 the family settled in Paris, and Sargent worked at the École des Beaux-Arts, but in October he entered the studio of Carolus-Duran, a skillful portrait painter. In 1876 Sargent made his first trip to America, to establish his American citizenship. In 1877 he exhibited a portrait of Miss Watts, his first appearance at the Paris Salon.

After an early period of realism he went through an impressionist phase.

Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) by John Singer Sargent, 1884, Oil on Canvas

Sargent’s most daring and brilliant portrait, known as Madame X, was of Madame Gautreau, one of the most elegant and fashion-conscious beauties of Parisian society. He painted her standing, wearing an extremely lowcut evening gown. When the picture was shown at the Salon of 1884, the public as well as her family were shocked, and Sargent was forced to withdraw it. Largely because of this, he left Paris and established himself in London, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Essie, Ruby and Ferdinand Children of Asher Wertheimer by John Singer Sargent, 1902, Oil on Canvas

By 1890 he was so firmly established that all the peeresses and notables of England clamored for the privilege of having him do their portraits.

A Hotel Room by John Singer Sargent, 1908, Oil on Canvas

Some of Sargent’s greatest accomplishments were in watercolor, which he undertook mostly during summer trips to the Tirol, Italy, and Spain. These works are transparent, luminous, and brilliantly executed.

Brook Among Rocks by John Singer Sargent, Watercolour on Paper

In 1890 he was commissioned to do murals for the Boston Public Library (completed in 1916), the finest of which is the series of prophets. In 1916 he executed murals for the rotunda of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He died in London on April 15, 1925.

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Well, I guess there’s not much that I can add… In my opinion all paintings should be just like Sargent’s – they have to be vibrant, full of colour and make us wonder how the artist managed to portray our world that well on paper or canvas with just a brush and some paint!

By the way, if you would like to see more of Sargent’s artwork, please click here

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2012 10:21 pm

    Great post! I’m a big fan of Sargent too. Darn it, he was so good at everything!! I’d love to have had the chance to see him working in action. A true master if ever there was one!

    • January 13, 2012 5:43 pm

      Thank you for your comment, David. I agree – seeing Sargent working in action would be something!

  2. Claire permalink
    January 15, 2012 9:19 am

    He was a genius – love his work

  3. January 18, 2012 6:37 pm

    Never knew of this painter – his work is stunning!!!

  4. June 24, 2014 7:11 pm

    I love his work.

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