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John Singer Sargent letters, 1887-1922

Biographical Note

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was born in Florence, Italy to American Parents, Dr. Fitzwilliam Sargent and Mary Newbold Singer Sargent of Philadelphia. During his childhood the family traveled Europe extensively, often spending summers in Switzerland and winters in Italy. Sargent began drawing and painting at an early age, helping in the studio of Carl Welsch in 1868, attending the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence in 1873, studying at Carolus-Duran's atelier and the studio of James Carroll Beckwith and finally attending the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1875. Sargent quickly gained recognition for his paintings, receiving honors for his works at the Salon and the Society of American Artists. During this period he visited the studios of many prominent artists working in Europe, including John Everett Millais, Frederic Leighton, and Claude Monet and also became friends with Henry James.
Influenced by Frans Hals and Velazquez, Sargent became a very successful portrait painter, acquiring many French patrons and later even more American clients. His most famous work, Mme Gautreau, known as 'Madame X', was denounced by the Salon in 1884 for its provocative modernism. After this scandal he moved from Paris to London, and in 1887 visited the United States, where he was treated as a celebrity. He visited again in 1890 and established studios in New York and Boston, in addition to his studio in London. He also accepted a commission to do a series of murals in the Boston Public Library which wasn't completed and installed until 1916. In 1891 he traveled to Egypt, Greece, and Turkey - travels that inspired his later paintings. By 1900 Sargent was the leading society portrait painter on an international level and was known for using modern styles of lighting, poses, and settings. In addition to many other honors he became a full member of the Royal Academy in London and the National Academy of Design in New York.
In 1907 Sargent decided to give up his portrait studios and focus on murals and landscape studies. In 1918 he became a war artist for the Ministry of Information and in 1924 had his first retrospective exhibition at Grand Central Art Galleries in New York. Sargent remained unmarried and died in his sleep in 1925 at the age of 69.