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JOHN SINGER SARGENT

1856-1925

A master of varied styles in both oil and watercolor, John Singer Sargent was a leading international portrait and figure painter of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Sargent was born in Florence, Italy to American parents in 1856. His parents lived in Europe most of their lives and traveled widely and often, following the social seasons of the age, and setting a pattern for the well-traveled life of their son. Young Sargent’s talent in art was encouraged by his mother who was an amateur painter. At age twelve, Sargent assisted at the studio of Carl Welsch, a German-American landscape painter in Rome. By 1869 he was doing copy work at the Bargello, and the following year was creating Alpine watercolors in Switzerland. In 1873-74 Sargent enrolled at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence. In 1874 he became a student in Carolus-Duran’s atelier in Paris along with American James Carroll Beckwith, and also began working in the studio of French portraitist Léon Bonnat. In that same year he was also accepted at the Ecole des Beaux- Arts. By 1875 he was sharing a studio with Beckwith in Paris and making sketching trips with him. Sargent exhibited his first portrait at the Paris Salon in 1877. His newly-completed portrait of Carolus-Duran (Charles Auguste Émile Durand) was awarded Honorable Mention at the Salon in 1879. From 1880-81 Sargent kept a studio in Venice. In 1884 in Paris he met and became friends with Henry James. In 1886 Sargent moved to London and established a studio in Kensington. In 1887 he set up a floating studio on the Thames at Henley in Oxfordshire. Between 1887 and 1888, Sargent sailed to Boston, where he completed a portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner; he also spent time painting in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island. His portraits were received with critical acclaim in Boston, as in Europe. In 1889 Sargent was awarded a grand prix at the Exposition Universelle in Paris and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur. By the 1890s Sargent was exhibiting several paintings a year at the Royal Academy and the New Gallery, London, as well as in Paris, Boston, and New York. Sargent spent 1890-91 in Egypt conducting research on mural painting techniques, and in 1897 did further mural research in Sicily. Sargent created murals for the Boston Public Library, the first of which was installed in 1895, the last in 1925. During 1919-22 he painted decorations for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts rotunda, and panels for the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University. Among Sargent’s many important portrait subjects were: Robert Louis Stevenson; Claude Monet; George Vanderbilt; Richard Morris Hunt; Frederick Law Olmstead; President Theodore Roosevelt; Lord Ribblesdale; Henry James; John D. Rockefeller; Lady Aline de Rothschild Sassoon; and President Woodrow Wilson. By 1905, however, Sargent had tired of portrait commissions, and turned his attention more to watercolors and studies of architecture, gardens, and mountainous landscapes. In 1911 he completed a series of studies in oil and watercolor of the marble quarries at Carrara, Italy, and in 1917 painted watercolors of alligators and palmettos during a trip to Florida. His watercolors were widely exhibited and purchased by major museums. In 1914 Sargent was temporarily stranded in Austria as Britain and France declared war on Germany. In 1918 he became the official artist for England’s War Artists Memorial Committee of the British Ministry of Information and visited the Western front, producing paintings which recorded what he saw there. Sargent was a member of the National Academy of Design; the National Society of Mural Painters; the National Association of Portrait Painters; the Copley Society; American Instit