Stephanie L. Herdrich, Associate Curator of American Painting and Sculpture The American Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art
This ADAF Lecture will take place on Zoom, click here to register for the online event.
John Singer Sargent in his studio in Paris, ca. 1884.Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art.
John Singer Sargent, The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant, 1899, Oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, 1927 Wolfe Fund, 1927
John Singer Sargent, An Artist in His Studio, ca. 1904, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund, 1905
In a photo of John Singer Sargent in his Paris studio from 1884, the 28-year-old painter presents himself as a sophisticated, stylish bohemian whose eclectic taste is reflected in his carefully chosen decor. Surrounded by objets d’art, paintings, and refined textiles, he displays his good taste and worldliness for potential portrait patrons, creating settings to suit his sitters.
Born in Italy to American expatriate parents, Sargent cultivated his powers of observation during a peripatetic childhood in Europe where he was constantly exposed to new people and the great art and culture of the continent. Fluent in a number of languages and cultures, he intuitively understood his patrons’ aspirations and ambitions, employing his dazzling, painterly technique to become one of the most sought-after portraitists of Gilded Age America and Victorian and Edwardian England.
During the 1890s, he achieved success as a portraitist in England by catering to a new upwardly mobile clientele. For Mrs. Hugh Hammersley, a fashionable society hostess and wife of a London banker, he fabricated an opulent setting in his studio that reflected his patron’s style and taste—using props from his own collection. The Louis XVI–style upholstered settee with gilt framework and the pale Aubusson carpet reflect the vogue for French 18th-century design in England at the time. Cascading swags of lush drapery in the background evoke paintings by old masters such as Van Dyke or Gainsborough. This stylish scene references Sargent’s artistic heritage and conveys status to the sitter, while the subdued tones serve as a foil for her daring vivid fuchsia velvet dress and vivacious pose.