The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, NY

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John Singer Sargent: Beyond the Portrait Studio, Paintings and Drawings from the Collection

June 6 - September 10, 2000

 

One of the most acclaimed American artists of his generation, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) achieved international recognition as a painter of society portraits by the mid-1880s. From the very start of his career, however, he also was attracted to subjects of everyday life. Despite the great demand on both sides of the Atlantic for Sargent's portraits, he declined most commissions after about 1900 and dedicated himself increasingly to travel - not only for its own sake, but in connection with important American mural commissions - and produced a great number of brilliant paintings and drawings.

This summer, some 100 of these compelling oils, watercolors, and drawings - all from the extensive holdings of works by Sargent in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and many of them seldom seen by the public - will go on view in "John Singer Sargent: Beyond the Portrait Studio, Paintings and Drawings from the Collection. "


left to right: Schreckhorn, Eismeer (from Splendid Mountain Watercolours Sketchbook), 1870, watercolor and graphite on off-white wove paper, 10 7/8 x 16 inches (27.6 x 40.6 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950 (50.130.146f recto); Young Woman with a Black Skirt, 1880-82, watercolor and graphite on white wove paper, 14 x 9 13/16 inches (35.5 x 25 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950 (50.130.33); Two Girls with Parasols at Fladbury, 1889, oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 25 inches (74.9 x 63.5 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950 (50.130.13)


These works will illuminate episodes in Sargent's career, early and late, as he studied and sought inspiration outside the confines of the portrait studio. Organized to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Sargent's death and the 50th anniversary of the gift of numerous works by his sister, Mrs. Francis Ormond, the exhibition will open to the public on June 6, 2000.

The exhibition and its accompanying publications are made possible by the Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund.

Born in Florence, Italy, in 1856 to expatriate American parents, John Singer Sargent was descended from one of the oldest families in New England. His peripatetic existence exposed him to the culture and art of many of the great cities of Europe and precluded any continuous formal education. He received artistic training in Florence and Paris, and settled in 1886 in England, where he died in 1925. Even though his life was quintessentially cosmopolitan, he considered himself thoroughly American, painting many American portraits, exhibiting his works in American cities and in the American sections of international expositions, and devoting decades to painting murals for installation in Boston and Cambridge; he even declined knighthood rather than renounce his American citizenship.


left to right: Man Standing, Hands on Head, 1890-1910, charcoal on light blue laid paper, 24 1/4 x 18 7/8 inches (75 x 48 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Miss Emily Sargent, 1930 (30.28.1); Alpine Pool, 1907, oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 38 inches (69.9 x 96.5 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950 (50.130.15); Mountain Stream, ca. 1912-1914, watercolor and graphite on off-white wove paper, 13 11/16 x 21 inches (34.9 x 53.5 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1915 (15.142.2)


The Metropolitan Museum's collection of works by Sargent, which numbers among the top three in the United States, was acquired by commission, purchase, and gift. Among many generous donations, one particular gift - the single largest addition to this collection - is particularly noteworthy. In November 1949, Violet Ormond (who was Sargent's sister and a distant cousin of the then-director of the Metropolitan Museum, Francis Henry Taylor) determined to present the Metropolitan with two dozen oil paintings, about 120 watercolors, some 225 drawings, four sketchbooks, rare lithographs, and photographs by the artists. These works arrived several months later, enormously enlarging the collection.

The works are grouped chronologically and thematically. Early drawings include the contents of three remarkable sketchbooks from 1869 and 1870 that document Sargent's travels in Switzerland with his family and manifest his precocious talent. Several of Sargent's youthful copies after antiquities, and after old and modern masters such as Michelangelo and Jean-François Millet, will also be included.


left to right: Garden near Lucca, ca. 1910, watercolor and graphite on white wove paper, 13 7/8 x 9 15/16 in. (35.3 x 25.2 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950 (50.130.81i); In the Generalife, 1912, watercolor, graphite, and wax crayon on white wove paper, 14 3/4 x 17 7/8 inches (37.5 x 45.4 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1915 (15.142.8); Bringing down Marble from the Quarries to Carrara, 1911, oil on canvas, 28 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches (71.4 x 91.8 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1917 (17.97.1); Figure and Pool, 1917, watercolor, gouache, and graphite on white wove paper, 13 11/16 x 20 15/16 inches (34.8 x 53.2 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950, (50.130.62)


Sargent's years in Paris are represented by numerous sketches that document his curiosity and his eclectic interests. In 1879 Sargent began a period of extensive travel to study the Old Masters and to gather ideas for pictures. His trip to Spain and Morocco in 1879-80 is represented by sketches of Spanish musicians and dancers, including studies related to his well-known painting El Jaleo (1882; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) and by paintings of architectural vignettes such as Moorish Buildings on a Cloudy Day and Open Doorway, Morocco. His early trips to Venice are recorded by views and figure studies such as Young Woman with a Black Skirt.

Sargent's early professional career is represented by Impressionist canvasses painted in the English countryside, such as Reapers Resting in a Wheatfield and Two Girls with Parasols at Fladbury, as well as by precise studies of flowers for his great painting Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (1887; Tate Gallery, London), and spontaneous sketches of friends, family, and acquaintances. His enduring fascination with the exotic is suggested by his sketchbook of the Javanese dancers he saw performing at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889.

Sargent's professional work after 1890 is illustrated by a select group of studies for his murals for the Boston Public Library, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Widener Library at Harvard University. His travels to the western front as an official war artist during World War I are documented by a group of rarely exhibited watercolors that depict the devastated French countryside, soldiers engaged in quotidian activities, and camp life.

The exhibition will culminate with a group of Sargent's dazzling exhibition watercolors purchased by the Metropolitan in 1915. These sheets record his enduring fascination with Venice (Giudecca) and his summer holidays in the Italian lake district (Sirmione), the Alps (Mountain Stream) and Spain (In the Generalife and The Escutcheon of Charles the V of Spain). Other, lesser-known records of travel and studies that Sargent made between 1890 and 1925 include brilliant watercolors and graphic sketches that he created during tours of the United States (including Florida and the Rocky Mountains) and of sites in North Africa and the Near East. These watercolors will be exhibited alongside Sargent's great oil paintings from the period, including The Hermit, Bringing down the Marble from the Quarries to Carrara, and Alpine Pool, among others.

 

Publications

Two publications will accompany the exhibition. The Museum's spring 2000 Bulletin - "John Singer Sargent in The Metropolitan Museum of Art" - is devoted to the subject. Written by the exhibition's curators, H. Barbara Weinberg and Stephanie L. Herdrich, the Bulletin will be distributed to Museum members and will be available in the Museum's Bookshops.

The exhibition also will coincide with the publication of "American Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. III: John Singer Sargent," a catalogue of all of the Metropolitan's drawings and watercolors by the artist. These works - more than 350 sheets and four sketchbooks - constitute fully one-third of the Museum's entire holdings of American drawings and watercolors. The fully illustrated book, which was written by Stephanie L. Herdrich and H. Barbara Weinberg, includes photographs of every drawing in the collection (about 100 of which are reproduced in color). An essay by Marjorie Shelley, the Sherman Fairchild Conservator-in-Charge, Department of Paper Conservation, discusses Sargent's working methods. The catalogue will be available in the Museum's Bookshops.

The exhibition is organized by H. Barbara Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, and Stephanie L. Herdrich, Research Associate, Department of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Metropolitan. Exhibition design is by Dennis Kois, Design Assistant of the Museum's Design Department.

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