Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends
12 February – 25 May 2015
Sargent's intimate portraits of his circle of friends, which included Robert Louis Stevenson, Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin.
When John Singer Sargent's provocative portrait of 'Madame X' appeared in the Paris salon of 1884 it caused an uproar. The young socialite, Virginie Gautreau, was dressed in a 'revealing' black gown deemed inappropriate for a married woman and rumours soon began to spread about her infidelities. Both the artist and his sitter were disgraced. His career now ruined in France, Sargent fled to England where he successfully reestablished himself as the country’s leading portrait painter.
This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery charts Sargent's time in Paris, London and Boston, particularly his little-known connections with many of the most prominent actors, writers and musicians of the day. While he normally produced portraits to commission, the personal paintings he made of his artistic circle of friends allowed him to experiment creatively. The works here show Sargent at his most radical; sitters are depicted in informal poses, sometimes in the act of painting or singing.
The only two surviving portraits Sargent painted of Robert Louis Stevenson are displayed together for the first time since they were painted in the 1880s. They are joined by intimate renderings of celebrated poet William Butler Yeats, actress extraordinaire Ellen Terry in character as Lady Macbeth and La Carmencita, the wild Spanish dancer. As such, the exhibition reconsiders Sargent as not just a painter, but as an an advocate of younger artists, musical connoisseur and literary polymath.
Reunited in the exhibition are the portraits Sargent created of bohemian writer Édouard Pailleron and his family. The Pailleron's were among Sargent’s earliest French patrons and their support was vital in launching his career. Individual portraits of Édouard and his wife are displayed alongside the artist's picture of the two Pailleron children. This is the first time the complete family set has been seen together in over a century.