Victoria here reporting on my recent visit to the wonderful exhibition at the Met, which was shown at the National Portrait Gallery in London last winter and spring..

detail of Villa Torloni

From the introduction by the Met:
Throughout his career, the celebrated American painter John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) created portraits of artists, writers, actors, and musicians, many of whom were his close friends. Because these works were rarely commissioned, he was free to create images that were more radical than those he made for paying clients. He often posed these sitters informally—in the act of painting, singing, or performing, for example. Together, the portraits constitute a group of experimental paintings and drawings—some of them highly charged, others sensual, and some of them intimate, witty, or idiosyncratic. The exhibition Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends, which opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 30, brings together about 90 of these distinctive portraits, including numerous loans from private collections. It will also explore in depth the friendships between Sargent and those who posed for him as well as the significance of these relationships to his life and art.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue

I never tire of re-visiting the Met, and it is alwlays fun to snap new angles of the building.

On my way to the special exhibition, I encountered several posters, including a weirdly striking image from a photography exhibition.


Sargent was born of American parents in Florence, Italy, in 1856.  He is best known for his portraits, in the grand traditions of Van Dyke, Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Lawrence.  Like their work, his vivid portrayals of the rich and privileged, including their jewels, sumptuously painted fabrics, and noble backgrounds,were perfect for royalty. But these pictures are somewhat different, more experimental, even intimate. The people he painted in these works are his friends and colleagues, fellow members of the intellectual, theatrical, and artistic elite.

Eager viewers around Sargent's portrait of Carolus-Durand, .

Early in the show is the portrait of Charles-Emile-Auguste Durand (1837-1917). with whom Sargent studied painting, beginning in 1874. According to the text panel, when this portrait of Durand by Sargent was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1879, some remarked, "the student had surpassed the master."  

Carolus-Durand, 1879

Sargent painted the Pailleron family soon thereafter. The father was a playwright, the mother from an influential cultural family in France, and the daughter a literary figure much later.

Edouard Pailleron, 1879

Madame Edouard Pailleron, 1879

Edouard and Marie-Louise Pailleron, 1881

This is an unusual double portrait, According to the text panel, "Sargent captures the young girl's disquieting intensity in an image that departs from the conventional Victorian  representation of children, Her brother, seated at an angle on the far side of the settee, seems a secondary presence." 

Vernon Lee, 1881

Using a pen name, Sargent's friend Violet Paget, was a "noted feminist and pacifist" as well a a woman of letters.publishing on aesthetics and psychology as well as authoring plays and novels.

Madame X   (Madame Pierre Gautreau) 1883-84

Virginie Avegno Gautreau (1859-1915) from Louisiana was well-known in Parisian society for her daring appearance; Sargent emphasized her glamour in this portrait, which was first exhibited with one shoulder strap slipping down.  The Paris Salon of 1884 was scandalized and Sargent re-painted the strap in its 'proper' place. A photograph of the original painting is shown with it.

Claude Monet 1887

Sargent and Monet (1840-1926) were friends and worked together sometimes. After Sargent moved to England in 1885, he followed Monet's example and began to paint outside, often portraying artist friends in a casual setting.

Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood 1885

Robert Louis Stevenson, 1887

Robert Louis Stevenson ad His Wife, 1885

Stevenson (1850-1894) and Sargent were friends from early Paris days, and Sargent painted him three times.  Of this view, Stevenson wrote it had "that witty touch of Sargent's, but of course it looks damn queer as a whole."

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889

Sargent was impressed with famed Shakespearean actress Terry on the London stage in 1888 and convinced her to pose for him. She is pictured placing a crown on her own head after the murder of Duncan, the Scottish king. From the text panel: "This incident does not occur in Shakespeare's text, nor as it a part of the performance. Sargent, however, sought a dramatic motif to make his portrait convincing, both as the personification of a role,and as a characterization of an individual actor. Terry's intense and powerful gaze enhances the climactic moment."

Self-portrait, 1906

Sargent was one of the first Americans to be invited to contribute a self-portrait to the collection of the prestigious Uffizi Gallery in Florence."His serious gaze befits the work's distinguished destination."

Mrs. George Batten Singing, 1897

Henry James, 1913

For his own self-portrait and that of Henry James, Sargent chose as sober straight-forward masterful method.  When portraying Mrs. Batten singing, he is more creative, emphasizing her rapturous style.

Ada Rehan, 1894-95

Another renowned Shakespearean actress, Sargent portrays her in high style. As the text points out, "That Sargent shows her in the grand manner and scale typical of paintings of royalty, points to changing ideas of celebrity in the late nineteenth century."

The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy, 1907

Jane de Glehn (1873-1961) is shown sketching outside Rome watched by her husband, Wilfred.

Further information on the Sargent Exhibition is here

Following my visit to the exhibition, I went upstairs to the roof garden. It was a lovely day and the views were stunning across Central Park's lush greenery to the distant skyline.