Sargent’s Portraits of Artists and Friends
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 12th February, 2015
The American artist John Singer Sargent was often dismissed in the latter half of the 20th century as a darling of high society who was commissioned to produce sumptuous portraits of the rich and famous. In recent years, the critical appraisal has tended to be kinder and the exhibition of his portraits of artists and friends that opened today at the National Portrait Gallery in London should see it sky-rocket. Sargent was prolific, but his work is by no means much of a muchness. Moreover, as this wonderful exhibition shows, his artistic sensibility, as well as his technique, evolved in fascinating ways throughout his life, the early part of which was spent wandering round Europe with his family;,later he had bases in America and London. As well as the formal representations of the great and the good there are sensitive pictures of struggling artists and other friends or characters who interested him, as well as evocative renditions of place. At one stage Sargent was clearly experimenting with Impressionism. His mural work — most spectacularly visible in Boston — is represented in the NPG show by photographs, which along with the concise but illuminating texts posted round the gallery help one to get a deeper understanding of the man and his diverse visions. In short, the exhibition is a triumph and is well worth a special expedition.