John Singer Sargent
Art on This Day
Madame X (Madame_Pierre_Gautreau),John Singer Sargent, 1884
On this day in 1856, American artist John Singer Sargent was born.
At the turn of the century, Sargent was the portrait artist for rulers and the upper-class in both Europe and the United States of America. Sargent's best portraits reveal the individuality and personality of his sitters, and his admirers think he is second only to Diego Velázquez. Although primarily known for his portraiture, Sargent experimented with many artistic styles, especially while travelling with sketchbook in hand.
Sargent, the son of an American doctor, was born in Florence in 1856. He studied painting in Italy and France and in 1884 caused a sensation at the Paris Salon with his painting of Madame Gautreau. Exhibited as Madame X, people complained that the painting was provocatively erotic. The scandal persuaded Sargent to move to England and over the next few years he established himself as the country's leading portrait painter. This included portraits of Joseph Chamberlain (1896), Frank Swettenham (1904) and Henry James (1913). Sargent made several visits to the USA where as well as portraits he worked on a series of decorative paintings for public buildings such as the Boston Public Library (1890) and the Museum of Fine Arts (1916). Artist’s later works, such as his watercolour paintings were acclaimed by critics, although he is not as celebrated for them by the wider public. The artist's classical-based murals were initially well-received, but then dismissed as out-of-date, along with murals in general.
After a long period of critical disfavour, Sargent's reputation has increased steadily since the 1950s. In the 1960s, a revival of Victorian art and new scholarship directed at Sargent strengthened his reputation. Warhol, whose works reflect the glamour of Sargent's best-known portraits if not a direct homage to his technique, commented that Sargent "made everybody look glamorous. Taller. Thinner." In 2014, Sargent's work inspired a New York exhibition, titled "Sargent's Daughters," in which 40 female artists created works influenced by his unique contribution to painting. Sargent has been the subject of large-scale exhibitions in major museums, including a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1986, and a 1999 "blockbuster" traveling show that exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the National Gallery of Art Washington, and the National Gallery, London.
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