Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sargent and Impressionism

Sargent and Impressionism – an exceptional selection of landscapes and interiors painted by John Singer Sargent – was on view at Adelson Galleries from November 4 through December 18, 2010. Culled from museum and private collections in the United States and abroad, the exhibition’s 28 oil paintings, three watercolors and one ink drawing date from 1883 to 1889. Known as the artist’s Impressionist period, Sargent spent the years immediately following the Madame X scandal withdrawing from Paris to immerse himself in a new social setting in England. With few portrait commissions to occupy him, this was a period when Sargent pursued stylistic experimentation and furthered his relationship with Claude Monet. The exhibition catalogue includes a significant essay, Sargent, Monet…and Manet, which discusses 17 newly-published letters written by Sargent to Monet, touching upon Sargent’s role in rescuing Manet’s Olympia (Musée d’Orsay) from purchase by an American collector in 1889 to secure its place in the collection of the French National Museums.

>Sargent and Impressionism features paintings that focus on the effects of light and water; leisure activities captured en plein air; and interior scenes of every-day life. Works on view include dazzling landscapes with family, friends and fellow artists in informal outdoor settings. Additional highlights include two important oil studies for Sargent’s masterpiece, Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose (Tate Gallery, London). Many of the exhibited works are on loan from private collections and have rarely been on public view. Institutional loans include works from the Baltimore Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, Flint Institute of the Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Yale University Art Gallery, among others.
>Sargent and Impressionism is Adelson Galleries’ fourth exhibition exclusively devoted to the work of John Singer Sargent, following Sargent’s Venice (2007), Sargent’s Women (2003) and Sargent Abroad (1997). This loan show continues a 30-year tradition of scholarship on the artist begun by Warren Adelson, an internationally recognized authority on Sargent.

Mr. Adelson has lectured extensively on Sargent at institutions throughout the U.S. and Europe. In 1980, he initiated research on the John Singer Sargent Catalogue Raisonné in partnership with Richard Ormond, Sargent scholar and the artist’s great-nephew. Sargent and Impressionism was timed to coincide with the release of John Singer Sargent, Figures and Landscapes, 1883-1899: The Complete Paintings Volume V, published by Yale University Press.

John Singer Sargent: Venetian Figures and Landscapes 1898-1913: Complete Paintings: Volume VI
John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes, 1900-1907: The Complete Paintings, Volume VII (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)

About the artist

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was born in Florence to American parents and lived most of his adult life in England. Widely recognized as the preeminent portrait painter of his generation, Sargent is especially known for his paintings of important figures in social and political spheres in late 19th and early 20th century Europe and America. In 1884, Sargent exhibited Madame X (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) at the Paris Salon, a portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau, the American-born wife of a prominent Parisian banker. The painting engendered widespread controversy in French society and in the press over what was deemed to be her inappropriate pose and attire. Sargent and Impressionism focuses on the time following this scandal, when Sargent moved to England in hopes of cultivating a new clientele for portraiture. While immersing himself in his newly adopted country, he painted subjects of his own choosing: landscapes, interiors and scenes peopled by friends and family.

Monet letters

A key to the examination of Sargent’s relationship (both as a fellow artist and as a friend) with Claude Monet is the emergence of 17 previously unpublished letters written by Sargent to Monet which were among thousands of letters kept by Monet and auctioned in Paris in 2006. Sargent met Monet in 1876 and remained in contact him with him intermittently throughout his life. His artistic admiration for the older artist is evidenced in his letters as well as written accounts by other artists, writers, and friends. Sargent purchased four of Monet’s oils for his personal collection, and made several visits to Monet at Giverny. Monet also visited Sargent in London and at Calcot Mill in Berkshire in 1888. Some years later, Sargent described why Monet was so important to him as an artist: “coming across a picture that looks like nature and gives the sense of living – for these reasons Monet bowled me over.”

Manet's Olympia

The discovery of the cache of letters also exposed the critical role that Sargent played in organizing fundraising efforts to block the 1889 sale of Édouard Manet’s Olympia to an American collector for 20,000 francs. Sargent and Monet led the campaign to preserve this masterpiece for the French nation. The two artists contacted Madame Manet to request her approval and then actively solicited funds from collectors, artists and writers to buy Olympia from Manet’s estate and donate it to the French National Museums. Olympia is now in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay. Records show that in addition to numerous solicitations, Sargent himself donated 1,000 francs.

Family and friends in the country
Paul Helleu Sketching with His Wife

Sargent and Impressionism covers the period when, for a brief time, Sargent had an opportunity to paint among a vibrant community of English and American artists and writers in the English countryside. Time spent in the bucolic villages of Broadway, Fladbury and Calcot re-energized him, offering exchanges with fellow artists and writers including Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson. Sargent and Impressionism includes the highly finished oil Paul Helleu Sketching with His Wife (1889) depicting the elegant French artist and his wife. Helleu is best known in New York as the artist who painted the mural featuring 2,500 stars on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal.

In both France and England, Sargent shared his time with family members and he often used his sisters and nieces as models. The exhibition includes several paintings of his youngest sister, Violet, or “Vi,” as he called her. Sargent later gave Violet Fishing (1889) to Violet’s daughter, Reine, as a wedding gift in 1924. Another version of this painting is in the collection of the Tate Gallery, London.

Catalogue raisonné

Adelson Galleries has been the sponsor of the John Singer Sargent Catalogue Raisonné for 30 years. It has been a labor of love that began on index cards meticulously recorded by David McKibbin, art historian at the Boston Atheneum. In 1978, the archive was passed on to Richard Ormond, Sargent scholar and the artist’s great-nephew; in 1980 a partnership with Warren Adelson put the catalogue raisonné on a steady course to publication. Extensively researched and beautifully illustrated, Volume V marks the sixth volume (volume VI was published in April 2009). Volumes VII and VIII are in progress. John Singer Sargent, Figures and Landscapes, 1883-1899: The Complete Paintings Volume V, published by Yale University Press will be widely available at booksellers beginning November 18, 2010.

Exhibition catalogue

In conjunction with Sargent and Impressionism, Adelson Galleries has published a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Elaine Kilmurray. In her essay Sargent, Monet…and Manet, Kilmurray writes on Sargent’s relationship to Monet and Impressionism, their quest to keep Manet’s Olympia in France, and other key developments during these years. Research director and co-author of the John Singer Sargent Catalogue Raisonné, Ms. Kilmurray lectures internationally and has contributed to numerous books, periodicals, and exhibition catalogues on the artist. She was also co-curator the traveling exhibition Sargent in Italy (2002-2003), and the Sargent retrospective that opened at the Tate, London, in 1998 and traveled to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1999.