I'm currently reading the fantastic Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends about the celebrated American artist, John Singer Sargent. A beautifully illustrated book written by Richard Ormond with Elaine Kilmurray coincides with an upcoming exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 30 - October 4 2015 of the same title.
Not only a painter of portraits celebrating American and European high society, Sargent also made numerous portraits, often not commissioned, of his friends, who were writers, actors, artists and musicians. These friends included Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, Oscar Wilde and Robin Louis Stevenson; these relationships in turn placed Sargent at the forefront of the contemporary movements in the arts, music and literature.
Whenever I think of his work, the portrait that always comes to mind is of Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau. More popularly known as Madam X, a beautiful young Parisienne socialite wearing an elegant black floor-length satin gown with jewel straps, posing in semi-profile. Although painted in 1883-84, because of the gown's simplicity of line and lack of ornamentation it always strikes me as being a very modern-day painting.
While my own focus is in contemporary art, I've always had an appreciation for classic art and John Singer Sargent is definitely one of my favorites. I'm enjoying learning about the dynamic man behind his art, his very cosmopolitan lifestyle, diverse circle of friends and acquaintances, many of whom became household names and highly regarded leaders in their respective fields. Kehinde Wiley, the African American portrait painter who currently has a retrospective exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, which I wrote about in My Living With Art Post February 13, shares a very interesting perspective on Sargent's work in relation to his own during a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.