William Sargent, Peabody Essex Museum
Apotheosis, Sacred to the Memory of Washington, ca. 1802. Glass, paint. Peabody Essex Museum purchase, 1983
China trade reverse painting on glass was a popular art form for the American market. These exports document literary, symbolic and historical images in a difficult, but radiant, material.
Eglomisé, as it is known, was a technique developed in Europe in pre-Roman times. It was revitalized in the 16th century, but particularly in the 18th century, by Jean-Baptiste Clomy (1711–1786), from whom the descriptive name is derived. Eglomisé was extravagantly used in 18th century European households, as individual paintings as well as elements in mirrors and furniture.
Americans acquired some Chinese examples through trade with England before the Revolution, but the market for specifically American images quickly established itself when Americans began direct trade with China in 1794. Paintings of “The Battle of Lexington,” “Liberty,” George Washington after Gilbert Stuart’s portrait, “The Landing of the Fathers at Plymouth” and “The Apotheosis of Washington” are a few of those that were proudly displayed in American homes of the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as today.
William Sargent will explain the origins and techniques of reverse paintings on glass. He will investigate the presence of Chinese eglomisé paintings in the colonial period and the exportation of iconic American images in the Federal period, and later. Mr. Sargent will provide the context for reverse paintings on glass by source images, national pride and the display of these paintings in American homes.
Bill Sargent graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. After serving in the United States Navy, he became a curator for the Huntington Art Museum in landlocked West Virginia. He also earned a master’s degree in art history from Marshall University while working in West Virginia. Mr. Sargent spent the next 32 years in progressively more responsible curatorial positions for the China Trade Museum as it became integrated into the Peabody Essex Museum of Salem, Massachusetts.
Mr. Sargent’s publications include American Art: From the Limners to The Eight (1976); Contemporary Printmaking (1977); The Copeland Collection: Chinese and Japanese Ceramic Figures (1991); Views of the Pearl River Delta: Macao, Canton and Hong Kong (1996); and Treasures of Chinese Export Ceramics at the Peabody Essex Museum (2012). He also contributed “A Porcelain Menagerie: Chinese and Japanese Ceramics from the Copeland Collection” to The Magazine Antiques (January 1992). Bill Sargent spoke to the Forum about “Inspiration and Imitation: Chinese Influences on American Decorative Arts and Architecture” in 2002.