New Orleans Museum of Art

New Orleans, LA



John Singer Sargent: Portraits of the Wertheimer Family


On March 4, 2000 the New Orleans Museum of Art unveiled "John Singer Sargent: Portraits of the Wertheimer Family," a dazzling suite of 12 portraits that are being reunited for the first time in more than 80 years. The exhibition will be on view at NOMA through May 21, 2000.

In 1898 the world's most famous portrait artist, John Singer Sargent, began a lifelong friendship with the Wertheimer family when the London art dealer Asher Wetheimer asked the artist to paint portraits of himself and his wife for their silver wedding anniversary. During the next decade, the two pictures spawned a series of 12, making this suite the artist's largest portrait commission. During those ten years, Sargent was so preoccupied
by the commission that he jokingly claimed to be in a state of "chronic Wertheimerism."

At the time of the Wertheimer commission Sargent was the most celebrated, sought-after and expensive portrait painter in the world. Wertheimer, the son of a German Jew, was among the wealthiest and most successful art dealers in England. "The convergence of Sargent and Wertheimer was an almost inevitable consequence of social history," said Gall Feigenbaum, NOMA's Curator of Paintings. As businessmen grew wealthier in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and landed gentry grew poorer, English social class barriers became less rigid, she explained. Art dealers like Asher Wertheimer prospered by selling the aristocrats' art to the newly rich, who praised the grand manner of portraiture. Sargent's brilliant portraits themselves seemed to confer social distinction upon the sitter.

Sargent had been born in Florence in 1856 to American expatriate parents. Through he identified himself as an American, Sargent never lived in the United States and visited only as an adult. After a peripatetic upbringing in Europe, he moved to Paris to study with Carolus-Duran. Sargent's talents were quickly recognized in Paris. However, his daring portrayal of the ravishing socialite Virginie Gautreau, subsequently known as Madame X, caused a scandal when it was exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1884. This incident is often cited as the reason Sargent moved to London in 1886. Between that year and 1907, he had become an international star.

The arresting body of 12 oil paintings features Asher Wertheimer and his wife, Flora, as well as individual and combination portraits of their children. Of special note are the portraits of the Wertheimer daughters dressed in the height of fashion. Ten of the twelve works are on loan from The Tate Gallery in London; one comes from the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; and another is in the permanent collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art.

"John Singer Sargent: Portraits of the Wertheimer Family" was organized by The Jewish Museum, New York, with generous support from the State of New York; the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency; Betty and John Levin; the Morris S. and Florence H. Bender Foundation; and the David Schwartz Foundation. The exhibition is made possible in New Orleans by the Ladies Store Rubenstein Bros.

After appearing at NOMA, the only venue in the south, the Wertheimer portraits will travel to The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and The Seattle Art Museum.

You may also enjoy reading our article on this traveling exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: John Singer Sargent: Portraits of the Wertheimer Family (3/3/00). Also see our coverage of the Jewish Museum's: John Singer Sargent: Portraits of the Wertheimer Family (9/26/99) and prior articles including John Singer Sargent (7/8/99) and John Singer Sargent in Houston Collections (9/21/98)


About the New Orleans Museum of Art

The Museum's $200 million art collection contains nearly 40,000 pieces and includes European painting and sculpture from the 16th through 20th centuries; American painting and sculpture from the 18th and 19th centuries; European and American prints and drawings; Asian art with an emphasis on Japanese painting of the Edo period; photography; European and American decorative arts including one of the six largest glass collections in the United States; and ethnographic art including African, Oceanic, Pre-Columbian and Native American. Among the Museum's special collections are the jeweled treasures by Peter Carl Fabergé, on extended loan from the Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation, and the Latin American Colonial Art Collection.

The Museum's American paintings include some particularly fine examples by artist John Singleton Copley , Gilbert Charles Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, Benjamin West, Asher B. Durand and John Singer Sargent. Other American holdings from the 18th and 19th centuries include a comprehensive collection of Louisiana paintings by such artists as Alfred Boisseau, Achille Perelli and Richard Clague. Works of genre and landscape are also included. The Museum's collection of Modern American art includes a wide variety of styles and artists including Georgia O'Keeffe, Hans Hofmann, Tony Smith, Jacob Lawrence, Jackson Pollock, James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg.

The Museum is set amid grassy meadows, emerald gold greens and swan-filled lagoons at the end of a tree-lined avenue in City Park. With 2,000 acres, the park is the fifth largest in the United States. The Museum may be reached from the City Park Avenue/Metairie Road exit on Interstate-l0 and also via the Carrollton Avenue or Esplanade RTA bus lines. Shuttle transportation to the Museum leaves the Central Business District daily. Ample free parking is available along Lelong Avenue in front of the Museum; Roosevelt Mall in the rear of the Museum; or in adjacent areas throughout the Park.

Museum Hours are Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed Mondays and legal holidays. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors (65+) and students with I.D. and $3 for children ages 3 - 17. Thursday mornings, 10 a.m. to noon, are free Louisiana residents with valid I.D. courtesy of The Helis Foundation.

Read more about the New Orleans Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 1/6/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.