Editor's note: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston directly through either this phone number or web address:


Sargent and the Sea

February 14 - May 23, 2010


The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will feature more than 80 paintings, watercolors, and drawings of seascapes and coastal scenes from the early career of the pre-eminent late-19th-century American expatriate painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), from February 14 to May 23, 2010. Following a presentation at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., this fall, Houston's showing is the final stop in the United States before the exhibition travels to London's Royal Academy. Dr. Emily Ballew Neff, MFAH curator of American Painting and Sculpture, organizes the Houston showing, which is complemented by Houston's Sargents: a show of some 30 Sargent works from private Houston collections. (right: John Singer Sargent, American, born Italy, 1856-1925, Woman Carrying Basket, study for 'En Route pour la pêche' and 'Fishing for Oysters at Cancale', c. 1877, Graphite on paper. Harvard Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum, Gift of Miss Emily Sargent and Mrs. Francis Ormond, in memory of their brother, John Singer Sargent, 1931.87.B. Photo: Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Sargent and the Sea brings together the artist's early beach scenes and will be the first to examine, in great depth, the little explored marine paintings and drawings produced during the first five years of the artist's career. Works in the exhibition were produced during, and inspired by, Sargent's summer journeys from his home in Paris to Brittany, Normandy, and Capri, as well as two transatlantic voyages.

"John Singer Sargent built his formidable reputation on his now-legendary portraits of society figures and powerful personalities, but this exhibition reveals that it's the sea that first captivated the young artist," said MFAH Director Dr. Peter C. Marzio. "Together with Prendergast in Italy, the exhibitions also remind us of how enduring European subject matter was for these two preeminent American artists."

"Sargent and the Sea draws work from a wide range of public and private collections in the United States and Europe, and is the first exhibition to provide such an extensive look at Sargent's exquisite but lesser-known depictions of coast and sea. In this show we are introduced to a forgotten chapter of Sargent's life for the very first time," added Neff. "In addition, the works borrowed from notable Houston collections will cast a view onto the extraordinary paintings -- both portraits and landscapes -- in private hands in this city."

While Sargent is best known for his society portraits, Sargent and the Sea will focus on his personal passion for the sea and his knowledge of seafaring, expressed as a young artist in his late teens and early 20s, during the years 1874-1880. Recent discoveries of three important seascapes, and the location of other pictures previously untraced, including Atlantic Sunset; The Derelict; and Seascape, have cast a new spotlight on Sargent's activity as a maritime painter. It is no coincidence that he came from a New England family steeped in trade and shipping -- his passion for the sea and his knowledge of seafaring are evident in this important group of early paintings, watercolors, and drawings.

Two works central to the canon of the artist's early career serve as a centerpiece of the exhibition: En Route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish) and Fishing for Oysters at Cancale, exhibited, respectively, at the prestigious Paris Salon of 1878, and the Society of American Artists in New York that same year, when the artist was just twenty-two. Although there are differences between the paintings, both depict a sun-filled scene of women and children getting ready to gather the fruits of the sea left behind at low tide in the Breton village of Cancale. There is a quality of immediacy and freshness in the scene and yet both paintings are the results of systematic and carefully calibrated artistic endeavor; indeed, Sargent left behind no fewer than twelve preparatory and related works, which have been brought together for this exhibition. (left: John Singer Sargent, American, born Italy, 1856-1925, Young Boy on the Beach, Study for 'En Route pour la pêche' and 'Fishing for Oysters at Cancale', 1877, Oil on canvas. Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, 1999.132)

With the exception of the two well-known Cancale oils, Sargent's seascapes have not been widely studied or reproduced, proving that even for a renowned, frequently published artist there is yet new material to be mined. Moreover, these pictures and their preparatory and related works have never been considered in the context of Sargent's career and the history of marine painting in general. Similarly, the artist's work as a marine draughtsman has never been studied in relation to his output as a marine painter; for the first time, this project will relate his freely handled marine drawings, large and small, to his watercolors, oil sketches, and finished oil paintings of marine subjects.

Sargent and the Sea will feature works produced by the artist drawn from both public and private collections within the United States as well as Europe. By presenting Sargent's artistic career in conjunction with his personal fascination with the sea, this exhibition will reconcile these two paths of the artist's life.

Sargent and the Sea is organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.,

Custom exhibition tour packages for groups of 10 or more may be requested with three weeks advance reservations. Contact the Group Sales Department, (713) 639-7878, for information on group admission discounts and tour topics. Group leaders receive free admission.


Houston's Sargents

Outside of New York and Boston, Houston has the largest holding of Sargent paintings in private hands in the United States. Houston's Sargents showcases some 30 paintings from the private collections of Houstonians, including some of Sargent's finest work. From paintings of a Spanish courtyard and a view of Venice to the famous society portraits on which Sargent built his career, Houston's Sargents presents a broad spectrum of the artist's work to complement the exhibition Sargent and the Sea.

Houston's Sargents is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


About the Artist

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was the most fashionable portrait painter working in Europe and the U.S. in the late 19th century. Born in Florence, Italy and reared by expatriate American parents, he studied in Paris with the portrait painter Carolus-Duran, soon distinguishing himself by his keenness of eye and facility of hand. Sargent spent his summers painting outdoor figure sketches and landscapes in a modernist and experimental vein. The studies made during these travels inspired a succession of exhibition pictures, including En Route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish). Portraiture, however, became Sargent's chosen sphere, and by 1900 he was the leading society portrait painter on both sides of the Atlantic, the "van Dyck of our times" as Auguste Rodin called him. The MFAH's portrait of Mrs. Joshua Montgomery Sears (1899) exemplifies his incisive bravura style, enriched with Impressionist qualities of light and color.

His dazzling portrayals presented his sitters in real spaces, capturing moments of arrested movement, and his ability to record what he saw with all the force of a first impression was matched to powers of large-scale composition and an intuitive feeling for character and status. His most famous work was a portrait of the celebrated beauty Mme Gautreau (1884, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), which created a scandal when it was exhibited (as Madame X) at the Paris Salon of that year.

In 1890 Sargent began a mural cycle at the Boston Public Library which, along with a later one at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was to occupy a large part of his energies for the rest of his life. After 1900 he spent his summers on long sketching holidays in the Alps. Sargent died in 1925 in London.


International Tour

Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.: September 12, 2009-January 3, 2010
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, TX): February 14-May 23, 2010
Royal Academy of Arts, London: July 10-September 26, 2010


About the Catalogue

A full-color catalogue, Sargent and the Sea, features essays by Ormond and Cash; Stephanie L. Herdrich, former Research Associate, American Paintings and Sculpture, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Erica E. Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of Paintings, Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and Marc Simpson, Associate Director, Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art and Curator of American Art, Sterling and Francine Clark Institute.


Also on View: Prendergast in Italy

Prendergast in Italy, the first exhibition devoted entirely to the watercolors, monotypes, and oil paintings by American Impressionist Maurice Prendergast, also opened at the MFAH on February 14, 2010. Featuring over 60 views of Venice, Rome, Siena, and Capri, Prendergast in Italy also includes the artist's personal sketchbooks, letters, photographs, and guidebooks from his two trips to Italy in 1898 and 1911.

For more on this exhibition:

Please click here to view a page with additional images of art objects in the exhibition and click here to view page two of additional images.

To view wall panel text from the exhibition please click here

To view art object labels from the exhibition please click here


(above: John Singer Sargent, American, born Italy, 1856-1925, Sketch after 'En Route pour la pêche' (Setting out to Fish), 1878, Pen and ink and graphite on paper. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gift of Irving Moskovitz, 1976.57)


Editor's note: Resource Library readers may also enjoy further study of:

and may also enjoy these Library articles and essay:

from the Web:

these books:

TFAO also suggests this DVD or VHS video:

John Singer Sargent: Outside the Frame is a 57 minute 1999 Jackson Frost television documentary produced by WETA-TV, Washington, filmed in high-definition format, and narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. As the foremost portraitist of his time, Sargent exquisitely captured in oil and watercolor the spirit of the Gilded Age. This close look at his work reveals much more than the faces of the wealthy. Emmy winner, Jackson Frost, reexamines Sargent's creations including landscapes, figures, and murals and highlights the paintings El Jaleo, Madame X, Carnation, Lily and others. At the height of his career, Sargent was the most admired portraitist in England and America, but he was dismissed after his death as merely a commercial artist. Distributed by Home Vision . ASIN: 0780023064 John Singer Sargent: Outside the Frame is available through the Sullivan Video Library at The Speed Art Museum which holds a sizable collection of art-related videos available to educators at no charge.

TFAO does not maintain a lending library of videos or sell videos. Click here for information on how to borrow or purchase copies of VHS videos and DVDs listed in TFAO's Videos -DVD/VHS, an authoritative guide to videos in VHS and DVD format.

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

For biographical information on certain artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in Resource Library.

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

Copyright 2010 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.