“Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” Exhibition

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

poster for “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” Exhibition

This event has ended.

Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, Gallery 999

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.

It 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 Friends provides 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)—is displayed among Sargent’s most avant-garde Parisian portraits. The exhibition also features 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 is 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 brings together paintings that have seldom or never been shown together. Multiple yet diverse portraits of the same sitter 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 are included. Claude Monet is represented by a bust-length portrait and a striking plein-air composition showing him painting out-of-doors. The great Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry is shown in both a vivid sketch of her performing and a captivating formal portrait. In addition, Sargent’s three portraits of the Pailleron family are reunited.

The exhibition is 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.



from June 30, 2015 to October 04, 2015

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