John Singer Sargent | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent

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One of the great painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, John Singer Sargent made his fortune and reputation as a portrait painter of beautiful women and influential men. Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, novelists Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry James, actress Ellen Terry and art patron Isabella Stewart Gardner all sat for him.

Raised in Europe by an American expatriate family, Sargent attended art schools in Paris. Precociously gifted, he soon assimilated lessons from the old masters, the contemporary Impressionists and the Spanish painters Velázquez and Goya, producing a spectacular array of exciting and masterful paintings while only in his 20s. At the 1884 Paris Salon, however, his portrait of the 23-year-old American Virginie Gautreau, shown with bare shoulders, overflowing bosom and haughty manner, scandalized the Paris establishment. The picture, which became known as Madame X, crippled Sargent's hopes of establishing himself as a portrait painter in Paris. In 1886 he moved to London, and in just a few years became the most admired and sought-after portrait painter in Britain and the United States.

But Sargent was much more than a portrait painter. He was also a prolific landscape and figure artist, producing more than 1,000 dazzling oils and watercolors. Now, Americans have a chance to see Sargent's breadth. Organized by the Tate Gallery, London, a new and unprecedented exhibition presents a full range of the artist's work. After three months in London, the show opens at the National Gallery of Art in Washington on February 21 for a stay until the end of May and then moves to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where it will be on view from June 23 through September 26.

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