John Singer Sargent
Life and Times
Though usually thought of as an American painter, John Singer Sargent lived most of his life in Europe. He was born in Florence, Italy, to wealthy American parents. He began his artist’s education at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, before moving to Paris to study under Emile Carolus-Duran. Sargent showed an natural proficiency at portrait painting – so much so his paintings achieved the distinction of showing at the Paris Salon, to widespread critical acclaim.
In 1884 Sargent became the center of uproar thanks to his scandalous portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau (Madame X), a Parisian socialite. In the first version of the painting she was depicted with one of her dress shoulder straps wantonly slipped off her shoulder. The portrait was left in the artist’s hands – twenty years later he sold it to the MMA.
Leaving Paris in a cloud of disgrace, Sargent moved to London, which he was to make his home for the rest of his life. The scandal followed him, so at first he found it hard to find new patrons. But the showing in 1887 at the Royal Academy of the superb canvas Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose help dispel his critics.
As a result of his brilliant portraiture skills, Sargent was much in demand both sides of the Atlantic – he even executed portraits of two US presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson .
As the years went by, portrait-painting, though lucrative, became uninspiring to the artist. In 1907 he embarked on a long journey through Europe, concentrating on painting landscapes.
In the final part of his life he accepted a series of commissions for larger murals from the Boston Public Library, the MMA, and the Widener Memorial Library in Harvard. The later he failed to complete before his death, in London, in 1925.