John Singer Sargent
This show marks the first major exhibition of Sargent's work on the west coast, hot on the heels of other major Sargent shows at the Tate, the National Gallery in Washington DC, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibit numbers over 120 works - including the remarkable portraits of Sargent's London patrons, the Wertheimer family, numerous drawings, including large figure studies, watercolours and oils, and informal portraits. American expatriate John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) is remembered chiefly as the last great society portraitist, and sometimes critically as chief painter to the bourgeois. Yet this show reminds us how much more he was. His portraits fascinate for staging, detail, character and sensual posing and his style is as adept as the Old Masters. (Homer or Hopper in the lighting, Velazquez in the colouring.) Venice, an oil of two lovers outside a doorway, is all breathtakingly dazzling light and hyper-realism. Asher Wertheimer could double as Rembrandt. Other works include the celebrated Madame X, and her fallen shoulder strap, which elicited such moral outrage at the Paris Salon of 1884 that Sargent was forced to relocate to London. The unfinished replica Mme. Gautreau, never before seen in America, is a centerpiece of the SAM exhibit. Ena and Betty has that same attention to telling details, forceful insight into character and technical mastery. Even a negative 1999 New York Times reviewer had to concede that "skill on this level [has an appeal] nearly erotic".
© Jill Townsend