John Singer Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends
Richard Ormond, Elaine Kilmurray
National Portrait Gallery, London, 2015
Many of the sitters in this collection were John Singer Sargent’s close friends. They are posed informally, sometimes in the act of painting or singing, and it is evident from the bold way they confront us that they are personalities of a creative stamp. Brilliant as these pictures are as works of art and penetrating studies of character, they are also records of relationships, allegiances, influences and aspirations. This volume, and the exhibition it accompanies, aims to explore these friendships in depth and draw out their significance in the story of Sargent’s life and the development of his art.
The book is structured chronologically, with sections arranged according to the places Sargent worked and formed relationships during his cosmopolitan career: Paris, London, Boston and New York, Italy and the Alps. The cast of characters includes famous names, among them Gabriel Fauré and Auguste Rodin, Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry James. But the authors also make their point with images of Sargent’s friends and associates, such as the artists Jane and Wilfrid de Glehn, who accompanied him on his sketching expeditions to the Continent, and the Italian painter Ambrogio Raffele, a recurrent model in his Alpine studies. In such paintings Sargent explored the making of art (his own included) and the relationship of the artist to the natural world. These are examples of an absorbing range of images and personalities, all distinguished in one way or another for their artistry, and all linked by friendship and a shared aesthetic to the central figure of Sargent himself.