John Singer Sargent: Master Painter
By Melissa Montgomery
John Singer Sargent was born in Florence Italy in 1856. He was the son of an American doctor. He began his formal studies in painting in Rome in 1871 at the Academie Del Belle Arti in Rome. Then he moved to Paris and continued his studies at Ecole de Beaux Arts. In 1877 he had his first exhibition at the famous Salon.
After the success at the Salon, John left Paris and travelled for a few years visiting Spain, Holland and Belgium. He wanted to sketch the paintings of Diego Velasquez, James McNeil Whistler and Franz Hals. He returned to Paris and in 1884 the infamous Madam X portrait was revealed. With it came a huge scandal. The portrait was considered much too provocative. The large painting of a beautiful woman in a black evening gown seems hardly provocative by today’s standards but at that time married women of a certain class were not painted by other men- especially if they exposed their bare shoulders. The scandal was big enough to cause John Singer Sargent to move from Paris to London England.
Over the next few years, Sargent established himself as England’s premier portrait painter. He was a tireless worker and worked every day, sometimes from sunrise until sunset. He rarely took a holiday. He painted over 900 oil paintings and over 2000 water colors paintings in his lifetime. While living in England he painted portraits of Joseph Chamberlain, Henry James and many of the upper classes of society and political figures. During this time he also travelled to the United States and did large murals for museums and libraries in Boston and New York as well as portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
John’s ability to capture the personality and the mood of his subjects made him famous. His ability is matched by that of Diego Velasquez, one of Singer’s idols. By 1897 Singer Sargent was elected a member of the prestigious Royal Academy in London. During the 1890’s he was painting fourteen portraits a year; his reputation was firmly established by this time and he was never short on models. He travelled extensively: Corfu, Florida, Montana, and Venice. He sketched and painted many faces and landscapes. He published a book of faces sketched in charcoal simply titled: Mugs. Many of his greatest paintings and murals were sold to museums: The Tate in London, The Brooklyn Museum and the Boston Public Library.
John Singer Sargent has been called a classical portraitist, an impressionist, a sculptor, muralist, landscape artist, water colorist….the list is endless. He painted most of the current European aristocracy, American presidents, oil tycoons, authors, prostitutes, landscapes and beggars all with the same passion and intent: to leave a lasting image of who they were. He hiked through mountains, and went to the front lines during World War I so that he could accurately depict the soldier’s experience on canvas.
Although he travelled often to the United States, John settled in England and it was there he lived out his final days. He lived a bachelor lifestyle and was always surrounded by many friends. He died in London in 1925, while working on his art.
Official Website for Artist John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent Museum & Gallery Exhibition