Sunday 19 October 2014

John Singer Sargent... and a few October colors.....

 ....from green to red at La Pouyette


My yearly diaries come from the National Gallery, London
 2014 is a collection of nineteenth and early twentieth-century paintings.

Every week is provided by a stunning painting,
portraits, landscapes and still-lifes, 
produced during the most innovative and exiting periods in the history of art.

Week 41 - Third week of October:

Lord Ribblesdale (detail), 1902
National Gallery, London
John Singer Sargent, 1856-1925

"I don't dig beneath the surface for things
that don't appear before my own eyes"
John Singer Sargent

Self Portrait, 1906, oil on canvas,
Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

John Singer Sargent, the son of an American doctor, was born in Florence in 1856.
He studied painting in Italy and France and in 1884 caused a sensation
at the Paris Salon with his painting of Madame Gautreau.
Exhibited as Madame X, people complained that the painting was provocatively erotic.
The scandal persuaded Sargent to move to England
and over the next few years established himself as the country's leading portrait painter.
This included portraits of Joseph Chamberlain (1896), Frank Swettenham (1904) and Henry James (1913).
Sargent made several visits to the USA where as well as portraits
he worked on a series of decorative paintings for public buildings
such as the Boston Public Library (1890) and the Museum of Fine Arts (1916).

Madame X or Portrait of Madame X 
is the informal title of this portrait painting
of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau

The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker,
and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities.
She wore lavender powder and prided herself on her appearance.
Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent.
 It is a study in opposition. Sargent shows a woman posing in a black satin dress with jeweled straps,
 a dress that reveals and hides at the same time.
The portrait is characterized by the pale flesh tone of the subject contrasted against a dark colored dress and background.
For Sargent, the scandal resulting from the painting's controversial reception at the Paris Salon of 1884
amounted to the failure of a strategy to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France,
though it may have helped him establish a successful career in Britain and America.

Renowned for her beauty, Gautreau represented the parisienne,
a new type of Frenchwoman recognized for her sophistication.
The English-language term "professional beauty",
referring to a woman who uses personal skills to advance to elite status,
was also used to describe her.

Her unconventional beauty made her an object of fascination for artists;
the American painter Edward Simmons claimed that he "could not stop stalking her as one does a deer."
 Sargent was also impressed, and anticipated that a portrait of Gautreau
would garner much attention at the upcoming Paris Salon,
and increase interest in portrait commissions.
He wrote to a friend:
"I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think she would allow it and is waiting for someone to propose this homage to her beauty. If you are 'bien avec elle' and will see her in Paris, you might tell her I am a man of prodigious talent."
Although she had refused numerous similar requests from artists,
Gautreau accepted Sargent's offer in February 1883.
Sargent was an expatriate like Gautreau, and their collaboration has been interpreted
as motivated by a shared desire to attain high status in French society.

 A figure study by Sargent in watercolor and graphite, c. 1883

Little progress was made during the winter of 1883,
as Gautreau was distracted by social engagements,
and was not by nature inclined to the discipline of sitting for a portrait.
At her suggestion, Sargent traveled to her estate in Brittany in June,
where he commenced a series of preparatory works in pencil, watercolors, and oils.
 About thirty drawings resulted from these sessions, in which many poses were attempted.........

......Just as she had been in Paris, in the country Gautreau was bored by the process of sitting;
here, too, there were social engagements,
as well as the responsibilities of tending to her four-year-old daughter,
 her mother, house guests, and a full domestic staff.
Sargent complained of "the unpaintable beauty and hopeless laziness of Madame Gautreau......
info source

John Singer Sargent in his studio with Portrait of Madame X, c. 1885


John Singer Sargent, January 12, 1856 – April 14, 1925
considered the "leading portrait painter of his generation" for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury. 
During his career, 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.

His parents were American, but he was trained in Paris prior to moving to London
 Sargent enjoyed international acclaim as a portrait painter, 
although not without controversy and some critical reservation; 
an early submission to the Paris Salon, his "Portrait of Madame X", was intended to consolidate 
his position as a society painter, but it resulted in scandal instead. 

From the beginning his work was 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
He lived most of his life in Europe.


Sargent's best portraits reveal the individuality and personality of the sitters; 
his most ardent admirers think he is matched in this only by Velázquez, 
who was one of Sargent's great influences.

The Wyndham Sisters - 
Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tenant

The Misses Vickers, 1884

The Spanish master's spell is apparent in 
Sargent's The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882
a haunting interior which echoes Velázquez' Las Meninas.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit', 1882 
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


"Venetian wine shop" c. 1898
Private collection


 An Artist in His Studio, 1904
Museum of fine Arts, Boston


 Street in Venice,1882, Oil on panel
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
It has been suggested that the exotic qualities inherent in his work 
 appealed to the sympathies of the Jewish clients whom he painted from the 1890s on. 
Nowhere is this more apparent than in his portrait Almina, Daughter of Asher Wertheimer (1908), 
in which the subject is seen wearing a Persian costume, a pearl encrusted turban, 
and strumming an Indian sarod, accoutrements all meant to convey sensuality and mystery. 

Portrait of Almina Daughter of Asher Wertheimer

If Sargent used this portrait to explore issues of sexuality and identity, 
it seems to have met with the satisfaction of the subject's father, 
Asher Wertheimer, a wealthy Jewish art dealer living in London, 
who commissioned from Sargent a series of a dozen portraits of his family, 
the artist's largest commission from a single patron. 
The paintings reveal a pleasant familiarity between the artist and his subjects.
 Wertheimer bequeathed most of the paintings to the National Gallery.
Biography source:


Sargent painted a series of three portraits of Robert Louis Stevenson. 
The second,

 Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson and his Wife (1885), 
was one of his best known. 

He also completed portraits of two U.S. presidents: 
Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson


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.
Theodor Roosevelt, 1908

...The famous expatriate artist arrived in America in January 1903 
and soon received a letter from Roosevelt inviting him to live in the White House
 during the month of February to work on the portrait. . . .

....Together [Sargent and Roosevelt] toured the White House 
while Sargent looked for proper light and a good pose. . . . 

As Roosevelt led the way upstairs, so the story goes, he said:
"The trouble with you Sargent, is that you don't know what you want."
"No," replied the artist, 
"the trouble, Mr. President, is that you don't know what a pose means."
 Roosevelt turned sharply back, grasped the newel-post and snapped, 
"Don't I!" 
"Don't move an inch. You've got it now," responded Sargent. . .

(Notes from Kloss, William, et al. Art in the White House: 
A Nation's Pride. Washington, D.C.: The White House Historical Association, 2008)


Portrait of landscape designer and architect Frederick Law Olmsted. 1895
  Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina (left)

John D. Rockefeller
painted in 1917 at Rockefeller's winter home in Ormand Beach, Florida.(right)


 Portrait of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, (1865-1932)
 National Gallery of Scotland

Lady Agnew's direct gaze and informal pose, 
emphasised by the flowing fabric and lilac sash of her dress 
ensure the portrait's striking impact.
Andrew Noel Agnew, 
a barrister who had inherited the baronetcy and estates of Lochnaw in Galloway,
 commissioned this painting of his young wife, Gertrude Vernon (1865-1932), in 1892.
info source: 


The Sitwell Family, 1900.
Private collection


Mrs. Cecil Wade
 1886, Oil on canvas
Nelson Atkins Museum of Art


It is in some of his late works where one senses Sargent painting most purely for himself. 
His watercolors, often of landscapes documenting his travels,
were executed with a joyful fluidness.

 Villa di Marlia, Lucca, 1910
watercolor, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In watercolours and oils he portrayed his friends and family dressed in Orientalist costume, 
relaxing in brightly lit landscapes that allowed for a more vivid palette 
and experimental handling than did his commissions

"Bedouins" circa –1906
watercolor,  Brooklyn Museum of Art.


“Dolce Far Niente,” circa 1907, 
oil on canvas,


Despite a long period of critical disfavor, Sargent's popularity has increased steadily since the 1960s, 
and Sargent has been the subject of recent large-scale exhibitions in major museums, 
including a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1986, 
and a 1999 "blockbuster" travelling show that exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 
the National Gallery of Art Washington, and the National Gallery, London.


The Garden Wall, 1910, 

"You can't do sketches enough. 
Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh."
John Singer Sargent



October at La Pouyette
from green to red.....

Fatsia japonica (fatsi or Japanese aralia) Aralia japonica, A. sieboldii
an evergreen shrub native to southern Japan and South Korea.

 The name "fatsi" is an approximation of the old Japanese word for 'eight' 
(hachi in modern Japanese), referring to the eight lobes. 
In Japan it is known as yatsude, meaning "eight fingers".

Now in full flower, 
pleasing some late bees and wasps

Half way through October, the grass is still green....

....and - Oh wonder - a few Japanese Anemones keep on flowering! well as the Fuchsia

the last Dahlias



....fading slowly away....

 ....changing their colors....


The leaves of our "Back-Wall" Trumpet flower....

...turn from green to golden brown....

and the Virgina creeper...

 ....together with Hydrangea quercifolia, oakleaf hydrangea 
creates a "mural painting"... green - yellow - from pink to red...and...and


Autumn leaves...

Happy October!

Until then...

Text sources and info links: