John Singer Sargent. Mrs. George Swinton (Elizabeth Ebsworth), 1897. Wirt D. Walker Collection.
From July 1 through September 30, 2018, the Art Institute of Chicago will present an exhibition of American portraitist John Singer Sargent
with a focus on his numerous Chicago connections. Featuring nearly 100
objects from the Art Institute’s collection, private collections, and
public institutions, John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded Age
examines Sargent’s impressive breadth of artistic practice and the
network of associations among the artist, his patrons, his creative
circle, and the city.
Through the lens of Sargent’s work, this
exhibition explores the cultural ambitions of Chicagoans to shape the
city into a center of art, the development of an international profile
for American artists, and the interplay of traditionalism and modernism
at the turn of the 20th century.
Singer Sargent (1856–1925) was the most sought-after portraitist of his
generation, creating powerful, striking likenesses of his sitters.
Although he is best known for his portraits, Sargent excelled in a
variety of genres and media, including landscapes, watercolors, and
This exhibition presents the full range of Sargent’s talents,
surveying his touchpoints to Chicago while also illuminating the city’s
vibrant art scene. Sargent first showed at the Art Institute—at the time
located at Michigan Avenue and Van Buren Street—in 1890, the year
Chicago officially became the nation’s “second city” in terms of
Among his paintings on view was La Carmencita,
a commanding portrait of a Spanish dancer that is at once old and new—a
tribute to Old Master painting that is also an Impressionist
exploration of color and brushwork. The composition drew crowds of
visitors to the museum, helping to put Chicago on the map as a
recognized center for contemporary art and culture. After rebuilding
from the Great Fire of 1871, the city was an amalgam of new and old
itself–attuned to innovation and change while also recognizing the value
the late 19th century, Chicago leaders endeavored to advance the city’s
cultural profile to match its already prominent reputation as a center
of industry and transportation.
Exhibition curator Annelise K. Madsen,
Gilda and Henry Buchbinder Assistant Curator of American Art, describes
this study of Chicago through the lens of Sargent:
“The Midwest is
perhaps an unexpected point of departure for an examination of this
thoroughly cosmopolitan painter, who made his career in Europe,
attracted a transatlantic set of patrons, and cultivated professional
ties primarily on the East Coast. Yet Sargent was indeed a fascinating
player in the cultural history of Chicago at the turn of the 20th
century. This exhibition presents the scope of Sargent’s talents while
also recounting the integral narratives of local collectors,
exhibitions, and institutions that are part of the artworks’ own
1888 and 1925, Sargent’s paintings were included in more than 20 public
displays in the city, among them the Inter-State Industrial Exposition,
the World’s Columbian Exposition, exhibitions at the Arts Club of
Chicago, and the Art Institute’s American Annuals.
John Singer Sargent. Portrait of Charles Deering, 1917. The Art Institute of Chicago, anonymous loan.
The artist’s Chicago
story owes much to local businessman Charles Deering, who built an
important collection of his works over a lifetime of friendship. Other
area patrons and Art Institute supporters, including Martin A. Ryerson,
Annie Swan Coburn, Robert Allerton, and the Friends of American Art,
attest to the city’s enthusiasm for the artist and made possible the
museum’s early acquisitions of his work.
Annelise K. Madsen; With contributions by Richard Ormond and Mary Broadway
This groundbreaking study focuses on John Singer Sargent’s
sustained, yet largely overlooked, involvement with Chicago’s vibrant
Gilded Age culture. Documenting the artist’s personal connections to the
city and the prominence of his work in Chicago collections, Annelise K.
Madsen explores Sargent’s various contributions to Chicago’s artistic
life, including his long-standing participation in local exhibitions.
With scholarly rigor, this volume also delves into the taste and scope
of midwestern patronage at the turn of the century, offering valuable
insights into Chicago’s civic and cultural ambitions.
Annelise K. Madsen is the Gilda and Henry Buchbinder Assistant Curator of American Art and Mary Broadway is associate conservator of prints and drawings, both at the Art Institute of Chicago. Richard Ormond is John Singer Sargent’s grandnephew and a leading scholar of the artist’s work.
John Singer Sargent. The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy, 1907. The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection.
John Singer Sargent. Harriett Pullman Carolan, 1911. Private collection.
John Singer Sargent. Lake O'Hara, 1916. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Louise E. Bettens Fund.