Monday, July 20, 2015

JOHN SINGER SARGENT Revisited: Review By Polly Guerin

Madame X
Aficionados of the art world may know the celebrated American painter John Singer Sargent for his famous painting of the iconic Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) with her scandalous alabaster shoulders, one strap of her sensuous black gown slipping over her shoulder.. Quelle scandal, such was the uproar in Paris that Sargent fled to London where he repainted the strap. No doubt you have seen Dr. Pozzi in his baronial red robe, but few of you have had the opportunity to see Sargent's portraits and sketches that he produced at whim, simply because he indulged his urge to make lasting images of patrons, friends and family.
   Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends brings together about 90 portraits of artists, writers, actors and musicians, and unlike commissioned works, many of them were his close friends or people he encountered in his travels, people whom he admired like William Butler Yeats for whom he created a sketch for a book of poetry.
William Butler Yeats
   The recently opened exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also brings together a candid look at Robert Lewis Stevenson, Henry James and the great Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry. The exhibition explores the friendships between Sargent and those who posed for him as well as the significance of these relationships to his life and art. He often posed those sitters informally, in the act of painting, singing, or performing.
Ethel Smyth composer THE WRECKERS
Then, too, there is the sketch of  Dame Ethel Mary Smyth, who is widely recognized as "the greatest female composer of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  In her autobiography Smyth describes posing for Sargent while seated at a piano and singing. The resulting portrait, created in a hour and a half, contrasts boldly drawn lines with smudging passages. Smyth was a committed champion of women's rights and played a prominent role in the suffrage movement.She gave up composing only when deafness overcame her in later life.When she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1922. Smyth herself explained: "I feel I must fight for (my music), because I want women to turn their minds to big and difficult jobs; not just to go on hugging the shore, afraid to put out to sea."
     Ethel Smyth's masterpiece, the opera, The Wreckers, based on historical events in Britain's Cornish coast in the 19th century , is a three-act saga of pirates, sex and betrayal with libretto by her close friend Henry Barrister. It is currently being performed at BARD in the Sosnoff Theater July 24 and 31, July 26, 29 and August 2. Contact box office at 845:758.7900. The American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director, directed by Thaddeus Strassberger. 
   Sargent was not essentially a bravura portraitist of high society, the individuals seen through Sargent's eyes represent a range of leading figures in the creative arts of the time. The exhibition brings together paintings that have seldom or never been shown together. In this exhibit we see Sargent in a new light, a bon vivant depicting everyone he selected for the mere pleasure or shall I say, unexpected results. One subject, W. Graham Robertson posed with his poode, who bit Sargent during the sittings. The case of the  Pailleron children is yet another topic of consternation.. Daughter Marie-Louise glares with defiance; perhaps because it took 86 sittings as she clashed with Sargent over her hair and dress. My dears, see for yourself; there are more casual portraits of other artists at work include Claude Monet on the banks of a river.
  Ta Ta darlings!!! The Sargent show is on until October 4th, plenty of time to cool off at the Met, Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street:  Fan mail always welcome, send your comments to  Visit Polly's Blogs at and click on the link to Blogs in the left-hand column.

1 comment:

  1. We were planning to see the show later this week. I was excited before, but now I'm truly looking forward. Thanks, Billie