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John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent

Though generally ignored by art historians until recently, Sargent (1856–1925) is now known as the “leading portrait painter of his generation” for his portrayals of luxurious British high society. He was born in Italy to American parents and did not see America until he was 20, instead living much of his youth and adult life in Europe’s high society.

Sargent’s work is characterized by his impeccable technique, particularly in his ability to draw with a brush, which in later years inspired admiration as well as criticism for a supposed superficiality. During a period when the art world favored the abstracted, avant-garde works of Impressionism and Cubism, Sargent continued practicing his own form of Realism. His commissioned works stayed realistic in the traditional manner of portraiture, while his personal studies and landscape paintings were more Impressionist in style painted with looser brush strokes. Later in life, Sargent found formal portraits to be too restricting and devoted his art to mural painting and working “en plein air,” painting mostly outdoors in nature.