American Art

Beloved American Portraitist, John Singer Sargent, Transcends Impressionism

By Halina Loft
Sotheby's American Art Online auction, open from now until 5 March, features three artworks from renowned American artist John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925).

T hough nearly a century has passed since his death, John Singer Sargent’s reputation as one of the greatest American painters in history has only grown. In 2004, Sotheby’s sold Sargent’s Group with Parasols (a Siesta), painted in 1905, for an astounding $23.5 million – nearly double the artwork’s high estimate at auction. And in recent years, museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. have each held exhibitions of the late artist’s paintings and charcoal portraiture.

But unlike Vincent Van Gogh, whose oeuvre only received its just due after his death, Sargent was lucky enough to be beloved while he lived – which can be owed in no small part to Sargent’s roster of devoted society patrons. Just consider this excerpt from The New York Times obituary on Sargent, published in the paper’s Sunday edition following the artist’s death:

“In the last decade of the last century and well into the present no Briton or American could be regarded as quite assured of regular standing in the Hall of Fame unless he was included in Sargent’s gallery of portraits. It was being painted by Sargent that gave the guinea stamp to the gold of civic and social worth [...] The cult or vogue or fashion for Sargent was, indeed, so overshadowing that those who could not be painted by Sargent insisted on being painted at least in his manner.”
H.I. BROCK, 'JOHN SARGENT, MAN AND PAINTER', The New York Times. Published 19 April 1925.

Two superb examples of Sargent's portraiture are highlights of Sotheby's American Art Online auction, which is open for bidding until the afternoon of 5 March.


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In one, Sargent painted the likeness of Madame La Comtesse Jacques de Ganay, the third daughter of Jaquelin Armand Charles, Duc de Maillé and his wife Jeanne d'Osmond. A member of France's noble class, the sitter married Jacques Comte de Ganay in 1874; the couple lived in the château at Visigneux and at a private residence in Paris. Sargent completed the portrait in 1885, and it remained with the family (passing from La Comtesse de Ganay by descent in 1933) until 1999, when it first appeared at auction.

JOHN SINGER SARGENT, PORTRAIT OF MRS. EDWIN S. WEBSTER, 1920. Estimate $30,000 – 50,000.

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The other, a charcoal work entitled Portrait of Mrs. Edwin S. Webster, was completed in 1920, just five years before the artist's death. The sitter, Jane de Peyster Hovey, was married to Edwin Sibley Webster of Boston – Mr. Webster founded an engineering and manufacturing company in the city, in addition to serving on the board of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This portrait lets us plainly see Sargent's knack for capturing his subject's features and personality with exquisite exactitude.

JOHN SINGER SARGENT, A LANDSCAPE VIEW NEAR NICE, circa 1883. Estimate $200,000 – 300,000.

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But while portrait commissions were the impetus to Sargent's fame, the artist's true affinity was for landscapes. Throughout his life, Sargent returned time and time again to landscapes, taking inspiration from the lush mountains and pastoral fields of Europe. A third work featured in the auction, entitled A Landscape View Near Nice, is an exemplar of this; Sargent painted the work circa 1883, likely during one of the artist's many visits to see his parents, who lived in Nice at the time.

Bid on these works and more in Sotheby's American Art Online Auction, and stop by Sotheby's New York to see the work on exhibition until 4 March.

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