Sargent, John Singer

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

John Singer Sargent, who worked mainly in Europe, became the most famous American portrait painter of his time. Later, he was recognized also for his landscapes.

Sargent was born to American parents in Florence, Italy, on January 12, 1856. He grew up in Europe and did not make his first visit to the United States until the age of 20. As a boy, he often went on sketching trips with his mother, who was an amateur artist. By the time he was 12, his parents recognized his talent, and he was given painting lessons.

In 1874, the family moved to Paris. There Sargent studied with a painter famous for his portraits of fashionable people of the day. From this teacher, Sargent also received training that prepared him to work in an impressionist manner. In 1877, one of Sargent's paintings was accepted at the Salon in Paris—the official exhibition of the French Academy of Art. His paintings were mainly society portraits—often flattering portraits of women in beautiful and stylish gowns.

In 1884, Sargent's Portrait of Madame X was criticized in Paris because the low neckline of the dress was thought to be immodest. A scandal followed, and Sargent moved to London, where he received many commissions for portraits. After 1887, he made regular trips to the United States to paint portraits. But during summers in England, he enjoyed painting landscapes in an impressionist style.

Toward the end of his career, Sargent became bored with portrait painting and began to refuse commissions. He painted a series of murals for public buildings in Boston. During the early 1900's, he spent most of his time painting brilliant landscapes in watercolors. He died in London on April 15, 1925.

William H. Gerdts
City University of New York
Graduate School and University Center

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