John Singer Sargent [1856-1925]

(Self Portrait)
American expatriate portrait artist

John Singer Sargent

was born,

January 12, 1856

in Florence, Italy

Sargent was the most successful portrait painter of his era, as well as a gifted landscape painter and watercolorist.
He was considered the “leading portrait painter of his generation” for his evocations of Edwardian-era luxury. He created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings. His oeuvre documents worldwide travel, from Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida.

From the beginning, Sargent’s work is characterized by remarkable technical facility, particularly in his ability to draw with a brush, which in later years inspired admiration as well as criticism for a supposed superficiality. His commissioned works were consistent with the grand manner of portraiture, while his informal studies and landscape paintings displayed a familiarity with Impressionism. In later life Sargent expressed ambivalence about the restrictions of formal portrait work, and devoted much of his energy to mural painting and working en plein air. Art historians generally ignored artists who painted Royalty and “Society” – such as Sargent – until the late 20th century.

So here’s a glimpse of his work & words
Mrs Carl Meyer and her Children [Tate]
The Black Brook [Tate]

“Color is an inborn gift, but appreciation of value is merely training of the eye, which everyone ought to be able to acquire.”

Theodore Roosevelt
[Sargent had Roosevelt hold his pose when he turned around with impatience to address the artist while they were walking around the White House surveying possible locations for the portrait.]
Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose [Tate]
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth [Tate]
Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood [Tate]

“I don’t dig beneath the surface for things that don’t appear before my own eyes.”

Arsène Vigeant

“If you begin with the middle-tone and work up from it toward the darks so that you deal last with your highest lights and darkest darks, you avoid false accents.”

Rosina [depicting Rosina Ferrara]
Portrait of Almina Daughter of Asher Wertheimer [Sargent emphasized Almina Wertheimer’s exotic beauty in 1908 by dressing her en turquerie]

“I have now got a bombproof shelter [the Continent] into which I retire when I sniff the coming portrait or its trajectory.”

Ena and Betty, Daughters of Asher and Mrs Wertheimer [Tate]
Vernon Lee [Tate]

“The thicker you paint, the more it flows.”

Morning Walk

“Cultivate an ever continuous power of observation. Wherever you are, be always ready to make slight notes of postures, groups and incidents. Store up in the mind… a continuous stream of observations from which to make selections later. Above all things get abroad, see the sunlight and everything that is to be seen.”

El Jaleo (Spanish Dancer)

Portrait of Madame X
An Out-of-Doors Study, 1889, depicting Paul César Helleu sketching with his wife Alice Guérin

“You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.”

Fanny Watts, Sargent’s childhood friend

“No small dabs of colour – you want plenty of paint to paint with.”

Clementina Anstruther-Thomson
The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

“Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend.”

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw

“To work is to pray.”

Man Standing, Hands on Head


American composer

Morton Feldman [1926-1987]

was also born on this day,

January 12, 1926

so we listen to his

Piano and String Quartet

with Kronos Quartet

& Aki Takahashi, piano

Morton Feldman

For more information on Sargent:


Be Safe

41 replies »

  1. One of my all-time favorites. I remember, quite a few years ago, the Muse and I walking into the Met in New York (or was it the National Gallery in London?) The location doesn’t matter. What mattered was a special exhibition of Sargent that we happened upon by accident. We gasped. We stood transfixed. As I recall, they had to kick us out at closing time.

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