Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends
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An intimate reflection on John Singer Sargent's portraits of famous friends
Walking into this exhibition is like being a fly on the wall at a late nineteenth-century soirée of the in-crowd. John Singer Sargent, the Transatlantic portraitist who was born in Florence to American parents, trained in Paris under society painter Carolus-Duran before moving to London in 1887. Along the way he made the acquaintance of many influential and colourful characters from the worlds of art, literature, music and theatre. In the hope of shedding light on Sargent’s originality as an artist, this show reveals his avant-garde approach to portrait painting through a diverse collection of intimate works.
Inspired by proto-impressionist Édouard Manet, then ridiculed by the establishment, and the writings of art critic Edmond Duranty, who called for ‘the special characteristics of the modern individual,’ a young Sargent set about capturing his subjects with a unique sensibility.
His use of tonal expression and elegant composition flows throughout these paintings. He painted Parisian patrons, American writers and artist friends including Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin with amazing intensity. In oil sketches that Sargent whisked up in a moment, some sitters appear like whispers. Others look timeless, yet Sargent always retained a swift ease. The way he applies paint is delightfully contemplative.
Whether a commissioned portrait or a personal appraisal, Sargent tackled his subjects with a vitality that is as charismatic today as it was over a hundred years ago.