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John Singer Sargent was an Italian-born American painter whose portraits of the wealthy and privileged provide an enduring image of Edwardian-age society.
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John Singer Sargent was born January 12, 1856 in Florence, Italy. At the Salon of 1884, he showed what is probably his best-known picture, Madame X. He was disagreeably surprised when it caused a scandal. Discouraged by his Parisian failure, he moved permanently to London. His work was too avant-garde to appeal immediately to English taste. It was not until 1887 that critical reception changed.
Artist. John Singer Sargent was born January 12, 1856 to American parents living in Florence, Italy. Although he spent most of his life in Europe, both of his parents were raised in the United States and the artist considered himself to be an American. His father, Fitzwilliam Sargent, was a physician who came from an early colonial family and grew up in Philadelphia. His mother, Mary Newbold Singer, married Sargent in 1850. While the couple were enamored of Europe and lived as expatriates, they were initially sent there by tragic circumstances, taking a tour as a means of escape following the tragic death of their first child. The Sargents had originally intended to return to the United States, but instead became expatriates.
John Singer Sargent began demonstrating his artistic talents at a young age, and soon took up the study of painting in a formal setting. His first known enrollment in art classes took place in Florence at the Accademia delle Belle Arti, in his late teens. During the winter of 1873-74, Sargent honed his skills, convincing his father that it was well worth encouraging his artistic pursuits. Father and son traveled together to Paris in the spring of 1874 so that John Singer Sargent could continue his studies in the art capital of Europe.
While in Paris, Sargent studied under a relatively young teacher named Carolus-Duran, who was teaching his students to break free of the rigidity of the old masters' style. Carolus-Duran's method emphasized skipping the step of making detailed sketches and heading straight to the canvas with a paintbrush. Sargent internalized these techniques; his later works would come to be recognized for their immediacy, emotional depth and refined technique.
In May 1876, when Sargent was in his early twenties, he made his first trip to the United States, accompanied by his mother and sister, Emily. The family visited Philadelphia and Niagara Falls, among other places. Much like his mother, Sargent found that he was intensely drawn to travel. When he got back to Europe, he kept traveling, using his voyages as opportunities to study great works of art and try his hand at portraying diverse locations. In Spain, Sargent admired and copied the works of Diego Velásquez; in Venice, he cultivated an appreciation for its picturesque canals, to which he would return many times. Travel scenes would form a major element of his work.
Back in Paris, Sargent submitted a portrait of his teacher, Carolus-Duran, to the Salon of 1879. It won him an honorable mention, and his reputation as a portraitist was given a boost. Between the years of 1877 and 1882, Sargent submitted many types of paintings to the Salon, but his portraits generally won the most positive attention.
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