John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925): 49 Early Portraits.
Text by John P. Walsh
The following 49 works by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) in oil, watercolor, and pastel begin to present Sargent’s professional output during his formative years in France and England and his trips to the United States. While Sargent’s early portrait subjects range from famous people such as writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) and actress Ellen Terry (1847-1928) in her role as Lady Macbeth, this post looks at mostly Sargent’s first portraits of family and friends, which included artists, writers, musicians, and romantic interests. Sargent’s artistic practice developed within a swiftly expanding social circle of prominent American expatriates and Europeans which included portrait commissions from business, military, legal and medical practitioners.His portrait work extended to their wives and children. It was during this creative period that Sargent painted his well-known group portrait The Daughters of Edward D. Boit (1882) and (to be included in a future post) the portrait of the exotic and controversial Madame X (Mme. Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau). Each of the following art works is specifically identified in its brief caption. The text includes the art work’s title (usually the sitter’s name), year of production, dimensions, markings and location, if known. Further, it often discusses how the sitter knew Sargent as well as the historical context of the painting and some provenance and exhibition history.
VIOLET SARGENT, c. 1875, oil on panel, 27.7 x 23.5 cm (10 ½ x 9 ¼ in.), private collection. Originally inscribed across the top “Violet” but removed in a later cleaning. The sitter was the artist’s youngest sister (1870-1955).
Resting, c. 1875, oil on canvas, 8½ x 10 9/16 in. (21.6 x 26.8 cm), inscribed upper right: John S. Sargent, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Informal pose and setting, bold treatment of light, this is one of the artist’s early outdoor works. The identity of the sitter is unknown.
MRS. EMILY SARGENT PLEASANTS, c. 1876, oil on canvas, 55.8 x 40.6 cm (22 x 16 inches), private collection. The artist’s aunt (his father’s sister). Dr. Pleasants (Emily’s husband) visited the artist’s family in France in 1875, but it is not known if she came along. The next year the 20-year-old American artist, born in Florence, Italy, visited the United States for the first time and went to the Pleasants home in Radnor, Pennsylvania. The high-backed rocking chair in the painting points to this portrait being done there.
FRANK O’MEARA, c. 1876, oil on canvas, 44.5 x 39.5 cm (17½ x 15½ inches), inscribed upper left: John S. Sargent. Inscribed upper right:1875. Typewritten label on reverse signed by Austin Strong, 14/5/1931, The Century Association, New York. O’Meara was an “impecunious and dreamy” Irish art student with Sargent in Carolus-Duran’s atelier. Sargent painted it for O’Meara to give to an American girl during a summer romance. Then Isobel Osbourne (1858-1953) returned home and married somebody else.
MRS. CHARLES DEERING, c.1877, oil on canvas, 55.8 x 43.2 cm (22 x 17 in.), Rhode Island School of Design. The family of Annie Rogers Case (1848-1876) met the Sargents in Florence in the 1860s. Her father (“the Admiral”) owned a Sargent Salon picture and dined with them on Christmas Day 1874. In 1876 JSS visited with the Deerings at Newport, Rhode Island, but did not paint Annie’s portrait. Mrs. Deering died the next year in childbirth. In the Sargent-Deering letters preserved at Chicago the artist agreed to the widower’s request to paint a posthumous work of his wife.
VIOLET SARGENT, 1877, oil on canvas, 34.9 x 25.4 cm (13 3/4 x 10 in), inscribed upper right: Violet 17th May 1877/7 years old. Location unknown. Sargent’s younger sister, the later Mrs. Frances Ormond. It had been owned by French Academic painter Auguste-Alexandre Hirsch (1833 -1911).
HARRIET LOUISE WARREN, 1877, oil on panel, 26.7 x 21 cm (10 1/2 x 8 1/4 in), inscribed lower right: JSS/Jan 18 1877. Private collection. Harriet Louise Warren (1854-1919) and Sargent were early friends. Later, in 1890, the artist painted her daughter, Beatrice.
EMILY SARGENT, c.1877, oil on canvas, 31.1 x 22.9 cm (12 ¼ x 9 in.), private collection. Six siblings comprised the FitzWilliam and Mary Newbold Singer Sargent family. John was the second oldest and only boy. Of his five sisters only two lived to adulthood. This is JSS’s sister Emily (1857-1936) born one year after him. About 20 years old in this painting, the two were inseparable at home and roamed Europe and America together. Emily was a watercolorist and naturally cheerful.
Eugène JUILLERAT, c. 1877-78, oil on canvas, 40.6 x 31.1 (16 x 12 ¼ in.), inscribed upper right: à mon ami Juillerat/J.S. Sargent. Inscribed on label on back by sitter on April 19, 1927. Private collection. Juillerat and Sargent were the same age and both studied under Carolus-Duran in Paris. Juillerat was an award-winning lithographer and sculptor receiving medals at the Salons of 1895 and 1899 and at the Exposition Universelle in 1900.
Head of an Italian Girl, 1878, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 38.1 (18 x 15 in.), Inscribed upper center: To my cousin Kitty Austin/ John S. Sargent; upper left: 1878. The Sargents had roots in New England yet resettled in Philadelphia where JSS’s father was a surgeon and married JSS’s mother. With the death of their firstborn, the Sargents left for Europe and stayed. JSS was born in Italy in 1856. He first visited the U.S.A. at 20 years old. This painting’s whereabouts and sitter’s identity are unknown.
MARY TURNER AUSTIN, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 38.1 (18 x 15 in.), Inscribed upper left: to my friend, Mary, John S. Sargent. The Christopher Whittle Collection. The Austins, like the Sargents, were American expats in Europe. Dr. Sargent mentions the Austins in correspondence and writes that the girls are “quite attractive.” Mary was an art student. Chicago artist J.C. Beckwith at dinner with the Sargents hoped to see “the pretty Miss Austin.” French artist Auguste Hirsch owned this portrait.
Head of an Italian woman, c. 1878-1881, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 38.1 (18 x 15 in.), Inscribed upper right: J. S. Sargent. The Arkell Museum, Canajoharie, New York. Gift of Bartlett Arkell. Hair piled at the nape of the neck is a typical mid1870s woman’s hairstyle, though the dress is less fashionable. The model may be a Sargent cousin – a later Mrs. Wurts – who owned this picture in 1926.
Portrait Sketch, c. 1910, graphite on thin, slightly textured off-white laid paper (tissue) 10 x 9.1 cm (3 15/16 x 3 9/16 in.). Gift of Mrs. Francis Henry Taylor, The Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts. Dated c.1910, this drawing had been only recently identified as the same model as “Head of an Italian Woman” painted by Sargent sometime between 1878 and 1881 and today in the Arkell Museum.
CARMELA BERTAGNA, c.1879, oil on canvas, 59.7 x 49.5 (23.5 x 19.5 in.), inscribed upper L: à mon ami Poirson; upper R: John S. Sargent; lower L: Carmela Bertagna/rue du/16 Maine. Bequest F.W. Schumacher. The picture’s history is muddled by the sitter’s questioned identity (a professional model, possibly Carmela B.), its stylistic clues (no later than 1880), diverse inscriptions (to later friends) and exactly from whom it was acquired before it was given to the Columbus Museum of Fine Arts.
Mme. François BULOZ, 1879, oil on canvas, 54 x 46.2 cm (21.25 x 18.25 in.), Inscribed lower L: à mon amie Me Buloz/John S. Sargent/Ronjoux 1879, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Mme. Buloz was from a family of writers and musicians. In summer 1879, Sargent was in the Savoy to paint her daughter Marie’s full length portrait for her marriage. Madame complained that this portrait, painted in haste, made her look ten years older than she was.
MARIE-LOUISE PAILLERON, 1879, 38.7 x 45.1 cm (15.25 x 17.75 in.), Inscribed, upper R: à ma petite amie Marie-Louise/John S. Sargent 1880, private collection. Daughter of Marie (Buloz) and Edward Pailleron, Sargent’s first important patrons. Two years after this portrait, Marie-Louise (1870-1950) was the subject of an important double portrait with her brother Edouard.
MARIE-LOUISE PAILLERON, 1879, watercolor on paper? Dimensions? Untraced. Sargent did other wash drawings of Marie-Louise that are better documented. The head on the left has a halo or other decorative design. This image was taken from a photograph the sitter made available in 1948 when the sketch was in her house at Ronjoux.
FANNY WATTS, 1877, oil on canvas, 105.7 x 83.5 cm (41.5/8 x 32.7/8 in.), inscribed upper R: John S. Sargent. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Following money reverses in the U.S.A., Fanny’s New York family traveled in the 1860s to Nice and Florence and met the Sargents. JSS and Fanny began a romance in 1876 that was nixed by Mrs. Sargent. The portrait is the artist’s attempt to reminisce about their time together. Dr. Sargent thought it his son’s “first serious work” and showed it at the Salon. Fanny and JSS stayed lifelong friends.
CAROLUS-DURAN, 1879, oil on canvas, 116.8 x 95.9 cm (46 x 37 3/4 in.), inscribed upper R: à mon cher maître M. Carolus Duran, sur élève affectioné/John S. Sargent 1879. Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts. Portrait painter and teacher Carolus-Duran (1838-1917) had a profound influence on JSS’s artistic practice in the mid to late 1870s. The sitter wears a red ribbon of the Légion d’honneur in his buttonhole. Being JSS’s second portrait exhibited at the Salon, this painting received critical praise in Europe and America.
EDOUARD PAILLERON, 1879, oil on canvas, 127 x 94 cm (50 x 37 in.), Inscribed lower L: John S. Sargent. Musée d’Orsay. Edouard Pailleron (1834-99) was JSS’s first major patron. How the 45-year-old famed poet and playwright met the unknown 23-year-old painter is a mystery. One impetus may be the favored portrait of Carolus-Duran at the Salon of 1879. This casually posed portrait of studied bohemianism was painted in Paris in summer 1879 and soon paired with one of Mme. Pailleron.
MADAME EDOUARD PAILLERON, 1879, oil on canvas, 208.3 x 100.3 cm (82 x 39.5 in.), Inscribed lower R: John S. Sargent/Ronjoux 1879. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. JSS’s first full length portrait depicts Mme. Pailleron (1840-1913). It was painted at her parents’ house at Chambéry in the Savoy. She posed at the entrance to the allée des Tilleuls with house and garden behind. At the Salon of 1880 critics remarked that the black satin dress was out of place in an outdoor setting.
Robert de Cévrieux, 1879, oil on canvas, 84.5 x 48 cm (33.25 x 18.875 in.), inscribed lower L: John S. Sargent, 1879. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Salon of 1879 was a watershed for JSS’s artistic career. Out of it came six portrait commissions in Paris including presumably this 6-year-old and his terrier. Carolus-Duran, by now JSS’s former teacher, painted children holding pets which were exhibited in mid1870s Salons. The child wears a velvet suit with no pant legs and matching jacket.
JEANNE KIEFFER, 1879, oil on canvas, 43.2 x 35.6 cm (17 x 14 in.), inscribed upper right: John S. Sargent 1879. Private collection. By his early 20s JSS was seen by some as an artist of “great talent and a real future” but also described as “practically starving.” This portrait is quirky for the direct frontal pose of the sitter and that the pink dress was an afterthought. The artist had originally painted the 7-year-old sitter in a black velvet dress.
Le Vicomte de Saint-Périer, 1879, oil on canvas, 61 x 50.5 cm (24 x 19.875 in.), inscribed upper L: John S. Sargent. Musée d’Orsay. JSS was paid 1500 francs – nearly a year’s wages for a typical French worker – for this portrait of a well-connected professional soldier. The expressive realism of the head recalls his recent portraits of Edouard Pailleron and Carolus-Duran.
HENRY St JOHN SMITH, 1880, oil on canvas, 62.2 x 49.5 cm (24.5 x 19.5 in.), inscribed upper R: John S. Sargent 1880. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Boston lawyer St. John Smith (1852-1896) graduated from Harvard in 1872 and went to Europe virtually annually. In 1880 he was a most eligible bachelor. Smith saw JSS’s studio in Paris and didn’t like it but friends Augustus Jay and Boston artist Francis Brooks Chadwick intervened and this head-and-shoulders portrait earned JSS another 1500 franc commission.
PETER AUGUSTUS JAY, 1880, oil on canvas, 45.8 x 37.5 cm (18 x 14.75 in.), inscribed upper L: John S. Sargent 1880. Private collection. The future U.S.A. Ambassador to Argentina is painted when he was a 3-year-old with golden shoulder-length hair and dressed in a bibbed white blouse. It was when Henry St John Smith was with the boy’s father Augustus “Gussie” Jay at JSS’s Paris studio as Smith was having his portrait painted that the commission for the child’s portrait probably originated.
ELEANOR JAY CHAPMAN, c.1881, oil on canvas, 43.8 x 53.3 cm (17.25 x 21 in.), inscribed upper L: John S. Sargent. Private collection. In 1881 Eleanor was the 16-year-old daughter of a stockbroker and, through her mother, a descendant of John Jay, first Chief Justice of the U.S.A. She and her younger sister Beatrix had their portraits painted by JSS in Paris (Beatrix’s was later destroyed). There is no evidence for how the Chapmans met JSS, but it happened before the father’s financial collapse in 1882.
EDWARD BURCKHARDT, 1880, oil on canvas, 55.2.x 46.4 cm (21.75 x 18.25 in.), inscribed lower L: To my friend Valerie/John S. Sargent Paris June 1880. Private collection. JSS was an intimate friend of Swiss businessman Edward Burckhardt (1815-1903) and his American wife and their family. This portrait – which has inspired little positive critical commentary – was painted in Paris in May 1880.
MRS. JAMES LAWRENCE, oil on canvas, 61 x 45.7 cm (24 x 18 in.), inscribed upper R: John S. Sargent 1881. JSS painted companion portraits of Boston’s James Lawrence (1853-1914) and new wife Caroline Estelle Mudge (1850-1920). Neither portrait has survived – both were destroyed by fire in Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1939. In 1888 it was noted that the sitter wore a black dress in front of a red background.
The Pailleron Children, 1881, oil on canvas, 152.4 x 175.3 cm (60 x 69 in.), upper right: John S. Sargent. Des Moines Art Center. Édouard (b.1865) and Marie-Louise (b.1870), children of JSS’s first patron, are seated on a bench, the boy dressed in suit with Eton collar and silk bow tie and she, hair up, wearing a satin dress with lace trim. Only after Carolus-Duran calmed Marie-Louise did she cooperate during the 83 sittings for this work done in JSS’s studio and exhibited at the Salon of 1881.
MARIE-LOUISE PAILLERON, c.1881, watercolor, 27 x 20 cm (10.625 x 7.875 in.). Private collection. Aside from a couple of dabs of blue, the portrait is executed nearly in one color, that is, en grisaille. Marie-Louise wears her hair “down” unlike in the formal portrait with her older brother done at the same time where the 10-year-old was exasperated by the artist’s insistence that she wear her hair “up.”
MARIE-LOUISE PAILLERON, c.1881, pen, ink and wash on paper, 23.2 x 18.1 cm (9.125 x 7.125 in.), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. A second monochrome facial study of 10-year-old Marie-Louise by JSS. The work has a playful aspect in that the paper’s back side (or verso) has a child’s drawing of a house.
DR. POZZI (or DR. POZZI AT HOME), 1881. Oil on canvas, 204.5 x 111.4 cm (80 ½ x 43 7/8 in.). Inscribed upper right: John S. Sargent 1881. UCLA at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, Los Angeles.
DETAIL of the left hand -DR. POZZI, 1881.
MADAME Ramón SUBERCASEAUX, c. 1880-81, oil on canvas, 165.1 x 109.9 cm (65 x 43 ¼ in.). Inscribed, lower right: John S. Sargent. Private collection.
Madame Ramón Subercaseaux, c. 1881, sepia wash, 22.2 x 32.4 cm (12 ¾ x 8 ¾ in.), inscribed, lower right: John S. Sargent. Private collection. This is not a study for the painting but a derivation from it. The artist made it for the painting’s reproduction in the Salon catalogue.
MRS. JOHN JOSEPH TOWNSEND, 1881, oil on canvas, 124.5 x 83.8 cm (49 x 33 in.). Inscribed, upper right: John S. Sargent Paris 1881. Location unknown. Catherine Rebecca Bronson (1833-1926) was from a family of U.S.A. politicians and married a New York businessman. The Bronsons were part of the same American expat community in Florence and Venice as the Sargents. This is JSS’s first portrait of the old family friend. She sits on a low couch, right elbow on pillows and holds a swan’s-down fan.
MRS. JOHN JOSEPH TOWNSEND, c. 1882, oil on canvas, 69.9 x 56.5 cm (27½ x 22¼ in.). Inscribed, upper left: to my dear friend Mrs Townsend/John S. Sargent. Location untraced.
JOHN JOSEPH TOWNSEND, 1882, oil on canvas, 128.9 x 86.4 cm (50 ¾ x 34 in.). Incribed, upper right: John S. Sargent/Paris 1882. Private collection. Mr. Townsend (1825-1889) was a New York lawyer who served in the State Assembly. A Columbia University trustee and Union Club president, he married Catherine Bronson, an old Sargent family friend, in 1854.
BEATRICE TOWNSEND, c. 1882, oil on canvas, 81.9 x 58.4 cm (32 ¼ x 23 in.). Inscribed, upper center: to my friend/Mrs. Townsend/John S. Sargent. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Mellon Collection). (Eleanor) Beatrice Townsend (1870-1884), born in New York, was the sixth of seven children of Mr. and Mrs. Townsend. The teenager died tragically of peritonitis, an abdominal disease.
MR. AND MRS. JOHN FIELD, 1882, oil on canvas, 111.8 x 82.5 cm (44 x 32½ in.). Inscribed, upper right: John S. Sargent, Paris 1882. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Phil. Gilbert Stuart painted the father of Mrs. Field (Eliza Willing Spring Peters, 1820-1897) and she was painted by Thomas Sully in 1841 and now by JSS. Europe travel led Mr. Field (1815-1887), a trader, into art collecting. In a June 1882 letter, British writer Vernon Lee noted that it was either the Fields or Townsends who were nonstop talkers.
Isabel Vallé, 1882, oil on canvas, 132.1 x 81.3 cm (52 x 32 in.). Inscribed, upper left: John Singer Sargent; upper right: Paris 1882. Private collection. Likely exhibited at the third exhibition of the Cercle des arts libéraux in 1882 on rue Vivienne in Paris. Isabel Vallé (1864-1947) became Mrs. Austin but later divorced. The three-quarter-length portrait of the 18-year-old possesses a “soft, liquid beauty.”
Mrs. Jules Félix Vallé, 1882, 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.), Inscribed, upper right: John S. Sargent/1882. Lost. Mrs. Vallé was Isabel Vallé’s mother.
MRS. DANIEL SARGENT CURTIS, 1882, oil on canvas, 71.1 x 53.3 cm (28 x 21 in.). Inscribed, upper left: Venice 1882; upper right: John S. Sargent/to his kind friend Mrs Curtis. Spencer Museum of Art, KS. Ariana Randolph Wormeley (1833-1922) was from a family of writers and linguists. At 20 years old she married Dr. Sargent’s cousin and moved from Boston to a palazzo in Venice where she established a fashionable salon. JSS called her the Dogaressa and was a frequent guest in later years.
MADEMOISELLE BOUSSENET-DUCLOS, 1882, oil on canvas, 55.6 x 46 cm (21 7/8 x 18 7/8 in.). Inscribed, upper left: John S. Sargent; upper right: 1882. Verso: Mr. John Sargent/ 8….. Private collection. The whereabouts of this portrait of a young woman dressed in a black outdoor coat with fur edging, was unknown until it reappeared in public in 1988.
MADAME ALLOUARD-JOUAN. c. 1882, oil on canvas, 74.9 x 55.9 cm (29½ x 22 in.). Inscribed, upper left: à Mme Allouard Jouan/témoignage d’amitié; upper right: John S. Sargent. Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. Shown at French art dealer Georges Petit’s 1882 exhibition the portrait was described as being painted “with verve by the hand of a master…”
MME. PAUL ESCUDIER, 1882, oil on canvas, 128.3 x 90.2 cm (50½ x 35½ in.). Inscribed,lower right: John S. Sargent 1882. Private collection. Louise Lefevre (1861-1950) married Paul Escudier (1858-1931), a sometime French entertainment lawyer. This informal portrait with a beautiful subject and setting in delightful light, the sitter’s identity is not certain. Sometimes compared to Belgian artist Alfred Stevens, the work’s reflection in the mirror seems to evoke Jan Van Eyck.
MME. PAUL ESCUDIER, c. 1882, oil on canvas, 73.2 x 59.5 cm (18 ¾ x 23 ½ in.). Inscribed, upper left: à Madame Escudier/John S. Sargent. Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts. The sitter is dressed in a black coat and diamond pin – ready possibly for a soirée – wearing a fashionable white-ribboned black hat for a finish.
LOUISE BURCKHARDT (or LADY WITH A ROSE), 1882, oil on canvas, 213.4 x 113.7 cm (84 x 44¾ in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
DETAIL of the right hand-LOUISE BURCKHARDT (or LADY WITH A ROSE), 1882.
DAUGHTERS OF EDWARD D. BOIT, 1882, oil on canvas, 221.9 x 221.6 cm (87 3/8 x 87 5/8 in.). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1882. The group portrait depicts the four daughters of JSS’s friend and fellow American painter, Edward Boit and wife, Mary Louisa. In Europe the Boits lived in Rome and in Paris where this painting, directly influenced by Velázquez, was painted in the family flat on Avenue de Friedland. Exhibited at G. Petit and the Salon. The Japanese vases remain in the family today.
REFERENCE: John Singer Sargent, Complete Paintings, Volume 1: The Early Portraits by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, Yale University Press/Paul Mellon Centre, 1998.