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John Singer Sargent
american, b. italy
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Florence, Italy
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Life-long American citizen. His elegant portraits created an enduring image of society of the Edwardian age. Wealthy and privileged people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean came to his studio to be immortalized. Sargent was raised abroad and first came the United States in 1876, when he established citizenship. Serious and reserved, he had a talent for drawing, so in 1874 he went to Paris to study painting with Carolus-Duran, a fashionable society portraitist. In 1879 Sargent went to Madrid to study the works of Diego Velázquez and to Haarlem to see the works of Frans Hals. Some critics believe that his best work, in a rich, dark palette, was done in the years immediately after this trip. At the Salon of 1884, Sargent exhibited what is probably his best-known work, "Madame X," (the portrait of Madame Gautreau, a famous Parisian beauty). Sargent considered it his masterpiece and was unpleasantly surprised when it caused a scandal--critics found it eccentric and erotic. Discouraged by his Parisian failure, Sargent moved permanently to London. His work was perhaps too continental and avant-garde to appeal immediately to English taste; "The Misses Vickers" (1884) was voted worst picture of the year by the Pall Mall Gazette in 1886. Then, however, in 1887, "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" (1885-86), a study of two little girls lighting Japanese lanterns, captured the hearts of the British public, and he began to experience the phenomenal acclaim in England and the United States that would stay with him the rest of his life. After 1910 Sargent abandoned portraiture and devoted himself to painting murals and Alpine and Italian landscapes in watercolor. With stenographic brilliance, Sargent pursued transparency and fluidity beyond J.M.W. Turner and Winslow Homer, sometimes becoming Expressionistic, as in "Mountain Fire" (1895). 1890 - 1910 : worked on a commission for the Boston Public Library to execute murals on a history of the Jewish and Christian religions. He also executed murals in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.