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John Singer Sargent

painter of two U. S. Presidents, the aristocracy of Europe, business tycoons from around the world, gypsies, tramps, and street children

John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent was born in Florence, Italy, on January 12, 1856, to American parents. His parents traveled extensively throughout Europe, and never settled back in America after John's birth. He himself returned at age 21, but just long enough to retain his citizenship.

Sargent must have been born to paint, for he was sketching animals at the Paris Zoo at age 9. From 1868 to 1869 he worked in the studio of Carl Welsch in Rome, and then attended school in Florence and took art courses at the Accademia delle Belle Arti. His family settled in Paris in 1874, and in 1877 Sargent exhibited a portrait of Miss Watts at the Paris Salon.

Sargent was the darling of the Paris art world from his first exhibition. Schooled as a French artist, he was influenced by the Impressionist Movement, Spanish Master Velazquez, Dutch Master Frans Hals, and his teacher, Carolus-Duran. Important works from his Paris years include: Luxembourg Gardens at Twilight (1879), portrait of Mrs. Charles Gifford Dyer (1880), Pailleron Children (1880), and Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (Salon of 1883; below), the latter remarkable for its subtle balances and luminous effect.

Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

Sargent's reputation in Paris was seriously hampered, however, when in 1884 he exhibited Madame X (below), a portrait of Madame Gautreau, one of the most elegant and fashion-conscious beauties of Parisian society. His depiction of her wearing an extremely low-cut evening gown caused a scandal which so distressed Sargent that he decided to leave Paris and settle in England.

Madame X

Despite the scandal over Madame X, Sargent never stopped painting. By the time of his death he had produced over 900 oils and more than 2,000 watercolors, along with countless charcoal sketch portraits and pencil drawings. Over the course of his career he painted two U. S. Presidents, the aristocracy of Europe, and business tycoons from around the world, as well as gypsies, tramps, and street children. A master of perspective, he also painted the back alleys of Venice and the dusty side streets of Spain, as well as opulent interiors and vacant Moorish ruins. He died in London on April 15, 1925.

Site of Interest

John Singer Sargent Virtual Gallery

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The Robinson Library >> Painting >> United States

This page was last updated on 01/12/2019.