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.