John Singer Sargent

born Florence, Italy 1856-died London, England 1925
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John Singer Sargent, © Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0002143
Also known as
  • John S. Sargent
Florence, Italy
London, England
Active in
  • Boston, Massachusetts, United States
  • Paris, France

Painter. Sargent traveled in a circle of socially prominent people and is known for his loosely painted portraits done in a style reminiscent of Edgar Degas and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Madame X caused a minor scandal at the Salon of 1884 and was rejected by Sargent's client because Sargent depicted her as vain. He devoted his later career to impressionistic watercolor scenes.

Joan Stahl American Artists in Photographic Portraits from the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection (Washington, D.C. and Mineola, New York: National Museum of American Art and Dover Publications, Inc., 1995)

Artist Biography

Sargent, born in Italy to American parents and educated in Germany and France, possessed a keen eye for regional social conventions. As the premier society portrait painter of his day, Sargent instinctively knew what pose, attire, and mood to suggest in London, New York, or Boston. His English subjects have an air of pomp and splendor, New Yorkers have a cosmopolitan appearance, and Boston subjects often look a bit more serious, as if ancestral responsibilities rested on their shoulders.

Sargent's understanding of old New England imagery may well have been learned over time; his father, the surgeon Fitz William Sargent, descended from a prominent Gloucester, Massachusetts, family. The Sargents relocated to Europe in 1854 and raised their children as peripatetic members of an international elite. John Singer attended schools in Florence and Dresden before entering the atelier of Carolus-Duran and the École des Beaux Arts in 1874. Academic training equipped Sargent with narrative conventions that he adjusted for class and local color in his portraits, yet his lively brushwork was up-to-date, even forward-looking. This unique style secured several commissions for Sargent on his first visit to Boston in 1887. By 1890 his reputation was such that the trustees of the Boston Public Library selected the painter to decorate the interior of the institution's new McKim, Mead, and White building in Copley Square.

William H. Truettner and Roger B. Stein, editors, with contributions by Dona Brown, Thomas Andrew Denenberg, Judith K. Maxwell, Stephen Nissenbaum, Bruce Robertson, Roger B. Stein, and William H. Truettner Picturing Old New England: Image and Memory (Washington, D.C.; New Haven, Conn; and London: National Museum of American Art with Yale University Press, 1999)



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An Impressionist Sensibility: The Halff Collection
November 3, 2006February 4, 2007
The exhibition is the first time this remarkable collection has been on display in Washington, D.C. Marie and Hugh Halff, who live in San Antonio, acquired these masterpieces during the past 20 years.
Oil on canvas of a mirrored imaged with three semi circles and two red vertical lines in the middle.
Variations on America: Masterworks from American Art Forum Collections
April 13, 2007July 29, 2007
"Variations on America: Masterworks from American Art Forum Collections" celebrates the vision and passion of private collectors who are formally affiliated with the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
A painting of a woman sitting down and reading 'Le Figaro'
Special Installation of Nineteen American Masterworks
April 17, 2015August 16, 2015
Integrated within the chronological flow of the museum’s permanent collection, these masterworks from Gilded Age, Impressionist, and Ashcan School painters will help to tell the story of the late 19th century and early 20th centuries in America, a “coming
An artwork image of a woman
Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano 
October 8, 2021May 8, 2022
This exhibition brings to life the Venetian glass revival of the nineteenth century on the famed island of Murano and the artistic experimentation the city inspired for artists such as John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler.

Related Books

A cover of the exhibition catalogue for Sargent, Whistler & Venetian Glass
Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano
Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano presents a broad exploration of American engagement with Venice’s art world in the late nineteenth century. During this time, Americans in Venice not only encountered a floating city of palaces, museums, and churches, but also countless shop windows filled with dazzling specimens of brightly colored glass. This lavishly illustrated book examines exquisitely crafted glass pieces alongside paintings, watercolors, and prints of the same era by American artists who found inspiration in Venice, including Frank Duveneck, Ellen Day Hale, Thomas Moran, Maria Oakey Dewing, Robert Frederick Blum, Charles Caryl Coleman, Louise Cox, Maurice Prendergast, and Maxfield Parrish, in addition to John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler.