A Tribute to John Sargent

John Singer Sargent was an extraordinary artist, who travelled from London to Paris, for work and even further afield, to New York and Boston. His work was well-received in both America and the United Kingdom, and he would often cultivate a strong friendship, with contemporaries. From Monet to Rodin, John has painted intimate portraits of numerous famous artists, writers, actors and musicians. An exhibition is being held in his honour at the National Portrait Gallery, that might not be a complete retrospective but it does carry a good breadth of his works for the audience to enjoy. 

The exhibition is to include more than seventy portraits, during his years of travelling. Various artworks have come up on loan from galleries and private European and American collections. John is an Italian artist, born in Florence and grew up in England. He studied in Paris, and indulged his creative senses in portraiture that depicted strange and dark fables: they cover stories such as, young children living a life of carefree abundance, the kind that most families in the world cannot afford to hand down to their children, the power of an ugly-kind of beauty you can gauge from trickery and fancy moves, that have the power to hoodwink your sensibilities in mannerisms that can cloud your sense of place and make you end up losing everything you hold dear, about young men who aimed high despite not having the  natural means to just because they despised the societal limitations that were inherently placed upon them, and ofcourse the perils of being lazy in the dusty sunshine. 

Sargent would teach himself how to paint stories such as these with the help of his deep love for literature, especially of the French classics variety. Sargent was often compared to Van Dyck, a well-known Flemish portrait artist. He would also often play the piano, because of his deep love for music. If you take a look at the Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose painting by John you will find a portrait of Bernard daughters, who were models for the photograph, standing in the middle of an illuminated garden scene. 

The Bernard daughters’ had a famous father, the illustrator Fred Barnard, who was friends with John but the painting you see here is entirely constructed, rather than a natural scene. John was often criticised for being too much of a society painter, but this is where I don’t agree because there isn’t a lot of paintings you often see, that can accurately depict what certain “privileged and too rich” societies can be like, for people to learn from. His realist vision, is different from the aristocratic community he was born into and grew up in, who most of the time happily fascinated themselves with European society at-large!


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