John Singer Sargent: The Amazing Life Of A Nomad

john singer sargent

The creativity and the fame of an artist rely on his life experiences to a great extent. In the case of John Singer Sargent, it goes without pronouncing that this master’s nomadic childhood was his artistic refuge than a nemesis. Let’s explore the story of this popular nomadic artist to know the Sargent art up close and personal!

Sargent Biography

Paul Helleu Sketching With His Wife by Sargent - Reproduction Oil Painting

John Singer Sargent was born in 1856 in Florence, Italy, and was one of the most prominent painters of portraits of his generation. He was an émigré from America who was known for kindling the luxuries of the Edwardian era through his paintings. Throughout his lifetime, he created a plethora of charcoal artworks, sketches, more than 180 watercolor paintings, and 2000 oil paintings.

While the origin of the Sargent’s family was in New England, his forefathers were among the initial colonial people who settled in Massachusetts. Though Sargent’s father Fitzwilliam was an eye surgeon who moved to Philadelphia in the United States, the family settled in Paris because they were troubled by his sister’s death. In fact, his family also traveled across Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Europe.

Informal Education

Poppies by Sargent - Reproduction Oil Painting

Because of the nomadic lifestyle of his parents, Sargent could never get a stable formal education. His homely education in music, arithmetic, language, history, and discourses with his parents kindled his artistic sensibilities. As a result, within a short span, he mastered the languages like German, Italian, and even French.

Sargent’s mother was a novice artist and she piqued his interests towards paintings. She believed that with the right lessons and training, Sargent could become a great artist someday. That’s why Sargent got trained in watercolors for creating the complete painting of German landscape by the painter Carl Welsch.

A wanderer in heart Sargent traveled across the world from Middle East, Montana, Florida, Maine, Venice till Tyrol, Corfu, Maine.

The Artistic Journey of Sargent

Street in Venice 2 by Sargent - Reproduction Oil Painting

Under the tutelage of the notable French painter, Charles Auguste Émile Carolus-Duran, Sargent understood the basics of paintings and persevered to get into the coveted École des Beaux-Arts- France’s finest art school! This brought him in the spotlight of the art fraternity and won praise from respected American painter like Alden Weir as well.

From around 1877, he started exhibiting his paintings at the Paris Salons. Also, for the theatrics and elemental drama that his work showcased; he received critical approval and contemporary acclaim.

Due to his rootless and nomadic childhood, his urge to travel and learn from the old Masters made him restless. In around 1979, he embarked on a journey across Spain, Holland and even Venice for the same.

The Adventures of Sargent Brush

Madame X (or Madame Pierre Gautreau) by Sargent - Reproduction Oil Painting

The moment Sargent Brush was back in Paris, there was a lineup of commissions awaiting him. His portraits of the crème de la crème of the society, especially of the high society women attracted respect and attention. While his portrait of Madame X may have caused him trouble and made him move to London, he received commissions by connoisseurs there as well.

Soon, the critics of London took note of his work and London’s Royal Academy exhibited his paintings. Taking inspiration from the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet, he started painting en plein air that is, painting the outdoors to create a specific time-bound moment. In one of the villages of England, at Broadway, Sargent also tried his hands on open-air painting and so on.

That’s not all! He created one of his magnum opuses, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose there. A stirring depiction of the lanterns kindled by two girls in a splendid England garden, it was immediately bought by the Tate Gallery. The 1890s made Sargent one of the highest-paid artists of his time, and his patrons in America and England kept growing with each passing day.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by Sargent - Reproduction Oil Painting

The Gradual Disapproval of Sargent Paintings

Home Fields by Sargent - Reproduction Oil Painting

With the advent of Cubism, Futurism, Fauvism, the erstwhile acclaimed Sargent paintings lost their sheen and garnered criticism in America as well as in Europe. To critics and patrons, it felt like Sargent was losing his touch.

Adding to it, Sargent also lost his interest in creating complete painting of portraits for the patrons. He switched to landscapes and painted through North America and even depicted the First World War through his oil paintings.

He founded an art school and a gallery in New York in 1922. Far from his birthplace, in 1925, Sargent passed away in sleep due to a heart condition.

Legacy of the Sargent Paintings

President Theodore Roosevelt by Sargent - Reproduction Oil Painting

According to Andy Warhol, Sargent could make everyone look and feel glamorous. Though he was best regarded for his aristocratic portraits, yet his love for landscapes and the country life also shows the artistic impressions that his nomadic life left on his mind.

Whether you feel that Sargent was an overrated artist or an underrated one, you cannot deny the unsurpassable contribution Sargent art made to the world. And that alone more than anything else is worth remembering!