Harvard University Art Museums

Cambridge, MA




Sargent in the Studio: Drawings, Sketchbooks, and Oil Sketches


Sargent in the Studio: Drawings, Sketchbooks, and Oil Sketches, drawn from the Fogg's extensive collection of John Singer Sargent works, showcases the artist's work as a draftsman and muralist, providing insight into Sargent's creative process and the development of his work. The exhibition opens June 10, 1999 at the Fogg Museum and offers a unique exploration of Sargent's working methods and his passion for drawing through more than 70 works. An extensive collection of Sargent works was given to the Art Museums by Sargent's sisters, and Sargent in the Studio will focus on sketches and studies for his monumental Boston mural projects (at the Widener Library, Harvard University; the Boston Public Library; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) from these holdings.

Sargent drew incessantly, and his sketchbooks, many small enough to fit comfortably into a pocket, served as his portable outdoor studio. Eager to escape his reputation as a society painter, Sargent turned to murals late in his career. The Fogg offers an ideal venue for this landmark exhibition, with over four hundred drawings and thirty-three paintings by Sargent in its permanent collection, rendering it one of the largest and most significant in the world. These holdings allow the Fogg to explore the progression and method of the artist's work in developing these three late mural commissions as well as other iconic works from his career, from studies of well-known works such as Madame X to sketches and drawings for his late mural projects.

Sargent's longstanding ties to both Harvard and the Art Museums also provide an important foundation for the presentation of Sargent in the Studio and allow the institution to extend the focus of the exhibition. In addition to the Fogg's holdings, Sargent completed two monumental murals for the Widener Library at Harvard: Death and Victory and Coming of the Americans, 1921-22.

Neighboring Boston houses two other Sargent monumental mural projects - The Boston Public Library's The Triumph of Religion (1890-1919) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's mythological scenes, including Apollo and the Muses and Classical and Romantic Art (1916-1925). With the Widener Library murals, these three masterpieces are the cornerstone of Sargent's work in America. The Fogg's collection of Sargent's sketches and drawings for these murals range from preliminary composition studies, in graphite, to highly finished charcoal preparation drawings.

Sargent in the Studio is organized by Miriam Stewart, assistant curator, and Kerry Schauber, research assistant, Drawing Department, Fogg Art Museum. The exhibition closes on September 5, 1999.

James Cuno, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director, Harvard University Art Museums said, "Our extensive Sargent holdings enable us to explore an important part of Sargent's oeuvre, and one not known to many audiences. As a teaching institution, this collection is an invaluable resource, providing unprecedented opportunities, in both curatorial and conservation research, to examine the working methods of one of America's greatest artists."

This exhibition kicks off a summer season of Sargent festivities in the Boston area including the nationally touring exhibition John Singer Sargent, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (June 23 through September 26, 1999) ( see John Singer Sargent at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston); Sargent. The Late Landscapes, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (May 21 through September 26, 1999) (see Sargent: The Late Landscapes); and Sargent in Context at the Boston Public Library, at the Boston Public Library (June 7 through July 30, 1999). Together these exhibitions provide a rare and unprecedented opportunity to trace the entire span of Sargent's artistic development.


Sargent at Harvard

The Fogg exhibition is drawn primarily from the museum's collection of works by Sargent donated by the artist's sisters, Emily Sargent and Violet Ormond. Emily and Violet both felt that it was important that the collection be preserved by a teaching institution and charged Sargent's executor, Thomas Fox, with the task of dispersing the contents of his studio after his death. Emily wrote to Fox: "remember that Violet and I want you to do what you think best with them, in the way of presenting them to any art school or schools you think that would like to have them and find them useful," Given Sargent's mural commissions at Harvard University, and the Art Museums' role as one of the country's leading teaching institutions, the Fogg serves as an ideal repository for these important works.

This rich and unparalleled resource of Sargent works at the Fogg offers an unprecedented insight into Sargent's career. In 1907 Sargent endeavored to give up portrait painting completely, and began to focus on charcoal portraits, watercolors, landscapes and his Boston mural commissions.

"The Fogg's collection of Sargent's sketchbooks and drawings offers unique insight into the progression of his work as an artist. Harvard's extensive collection of sketchbooks and drawings display Sargent's passion for capturing, on paper, what was around him and then filtering these images into his larger paintings and mural projects," said Miriam Stewart, assistant curator, Drawing Department, Fogg Art Museum.

This selection of the Fogg's collection begins with a look at the precocious artist as a teenager,when he was traveling through Europe with his parents and recording the local landscape in multiple drawings and sketches. The exhibition will continue through his later career, including his more mature sketchbooks, which include quick portrait studies, architectural studies, and even doodles and caricatures.

Individual drawings displayed will include two studies for Sargent's portrait of Madame Gautreau (Madame X) and a selection of figure studies and nudes taken from a large album assembled by the artist. These nude studies attest to Sargent's remarkable facility in the rich medium of charcoal and his mastery of the human form. Sargent's brushes, paints, and a palette will also be on display.

For further details about the collection of works by Sargent at the Harvard University Art Museums, there is a segment of the Art Museums website entitled Sargent at Harvard, which includes in-depth archive and provenance research of Harvard's collection of his works.

Text and images courtesy of Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, © Copyright 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College

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