John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy, 1907.
Oil on canvas. The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection
June 30–October 4, 2015
Exhibition Location: Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, Gallery 999
Press Preview: Monday, June 29, 10:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
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. Opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 30, the exhibition Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends will bring 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.
The exhibition is made possible by The Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund.
The exhibition was organized by the National Portrait Gallery, London in collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends challenges the conventional view that Sargent was essentially a bravura portraitist to high society. In fact Sargent’s affiliations place him in the vanguard of contemporary movements in the arts, music, literature, and theatre. The individuals seen through Sargent’s eyes represent a range of leading figures in the creative arts of the time, including artists such as Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin; writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, and Judith Gautier; and the actress Ellen Terry. The exhibition also includes less-familiar associates, such as the painters Jane and Wilfrid de Glehn, who accompanied Sargent on his sketching expeditions through Europe, and Ambrogio Raffele, a painter and a frequent model in the artist’s Alpine studies.
The exhibition also explores Sargent’s relationships with influential patrons and collectors. Lasting friendships with the aesthete Dr. Pozzi, artist-turned-industrialist Charles Deering, writer Édouard Pailleron and his family, and Boston collector Isabella Stewart Gardner connected the painter to the avant-garde international art world and yielded some of his most daring, provocative, and intimate images. Sargent conspired with these sophisticated patrons to create unique, innovative likenesses. Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friendswill provide an exceptional opportunity to see the wonderfully eccentric portrait of Gardner—one which has rarely left the Gardner Museum—in the context of Sargent’s relationships with other Boston friends.
A highlight from the Metropolitan’s own collection—the iconic Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)—will be displayed among Sargent’s most avant-garde Parisian portraits. The exhibition also will feature other key paintings from the Metropolitan’s Sargent collection, which is one of the finest in the world. Sargent’s exceptional talent as a draftsman and a watercolorist will be showcased through an installation—unique to the New York venue—of about 20 works on paper from The American Wing to complement themes of the exhibition. Most of these were given to the Metropolitan by Mrs. Francis Ormond, Sargent’s sister.
The exhibition will bring together paintings that have seldom or never been shown together. Multiple yet diverse portraits of the same sitter will allow an in-depth exploration not only of Sargent’s relationships but also of his extraordinary talent and range as an artist. Both of Sargent’s portraits of the enigmatic Robert Louis Stevenson will be included. Claude Monet will be represented by a bust-length portrait and a striking plein-air composition showing him painting out-of-doors.
The great Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry will be shown in both a vivid sketch of her performing and a captivating formal portrait. In addition, Sargent’s three portraits of the Pailleron family will be reunited.
The exhibition will be organized chronologically according to the sequence of places where Sargent worked and formed artistic relationships during his cosmopolitan career: Paris, London, the English countryside; the United States, especially Boston and New York; Italy; the Alps; and other locales in Europe.
Richard Ormond CBE has curated the exhibition with advice from H. Barbara Weinberg, the Metropolitan Museum’s Curator Emerita of American Paintings and Sculpture and a Sargent scholar. It is curated in New York by Elizabeth Kornhauser, the Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, and Stephanie L. Herdrich, Assistant Research Curator, both of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing. Exhibition design is by Brian Butterfield, Senior Exhibition Designer; graphics are by Morton Lebigre, Graphic Designer; and lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Lighting Design Managers, all of the Museum’s Design Department.
Richard Ormond CBE is an art historian and the former Director of the National Maritime Museum from 1986–2000 and formerly Head of the Picture Department from 1983. He was the Nineteenth Century Curator and latterly the Deputy Director of the National Portrait Gallery from 1975 until 1983. Ormond is a Victorian painting specialist and the author of books on Sargent and Lord Leighton, and is co-author of the Sargent catalogue raisonné.
The wall colors in the exhibition are provided by Farrow & Ball.
Education programs organized to complement the exhibition include a public lecture, exhibition tours, and a Friday Evening Gallery Event that will include readings in the galleries and painting demonstrations. For visitors with disabilities, there will be a sign language interpreted gallery talk, workshops for visitors who are blind or partially sighted, and a program for visitors with dementia and their care partners. The Museum will also offer a two-week summer intensive for teens on portraiture (prior registration required). These programs are free with Museum admission. In addition, a subscription lecture focusing on Sargent’s circle of friends will be offered on June 10, 2015; a three-part studio workshop on painting portraits will be offered for adults, and two sessions of art making for families will also take place.
An audio tour, part of the Museum’s Audio Guide program, is available for rental ($7, $6 for Members, $5 for children under 12).
The Audio Guide is sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with contributions by leading Sargent scholars: Marc Simpson, independent art historian; Elaine Kilmurray, author of the SargentCatalogue Raisonné; Barbara Dayer Gallati, independent art historian; Erica Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Trevor Fairbrother, independent art historian; and H. Barbara Weinberg, Curator Emerita, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
A related publication by Barbara Dayer Gallati, suitable for nonspecialists, provides an introduction to the artist’s life and an overview of the exhibition. The books, which are published by the National Portrait Gallery, London, will be available for purchase in the Metropolitan Museum’s book shops and website.
The exhibition will be featured on the Museum’s website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter via the hashtag #MetSargent.
Prior to its showing at the Metropolitan Museum, the exhibition was presented at the National Portrait Gallery, London (February 12—May 25, 2015).