"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

John Singer Sargent

John S. Sargent
Drawn from Life by C. D. Gibson
Copyright 1903 by Collier's Weekly

This 1903 drawing of John Singer Sargent by Charles Dana Gibson appeared in Collier's Weekly, April 1903, Vol. XXX, No 26, page 30.  It also appeared in the Washington Evening Star, April 4, 1903, page 22. Gibson,  progenitor of the famous Gibson Girl, was at the peak of his career. In 1904 he'd signed an exclusive contract to draw for Life and Collier's magazines for $100,000 yearly. Sargent who had spent most of his life in Europe had come to America to paint President Roosevelt and decorate the Boston Public Library. 

This picture of Sargent was published in a number of papers including the Waterbury Evening Democrat and the Willmar Tribune.

John S. Sargent, Who will Paint the President's Picture.
While he is in this country, John Singer Sargent, R. A. the famous American painter will put up the second part in his scheme of decoration in the Boston Public library and will also paint the portrait of President Roosevelt in the historical series of the presidents  of the United States. Sargent's price for a portrait if $5,000.
The Deseret Evening News (Great Salt Lake, Utah) had this illustration with a similar caption.

America's Famous Portrait Painter
John S. Sargent
John Singer Sargent, R. A. one of the world's most famous portrait painters is in the United States. It is the first time he has visited his native land since 1898. Mr. Sargent is here to paint President Roosevelt's portrait. The picture is for the historical series of United States Presidents.
 The resulting presidential portrait is still part of the Whitehouse collection.


The article in Collier's accompanying the Gibson portrait of Sargent is a detailed and effusive appreciation of Sargent's painting of Roosevelt, and the mural he painted at the Boston Public Library. The Washington Star article is generally favorable but finds fault with “the poorly drawn right arm and hand and the unexplained, inartistic and unreasonable newel post.” There is a bit of folklore explaining the newel post in terms of Sargent's alla prima method. The, likely apocryphal,  story goes that Roosevelt was too busy to sit for Sargent, but when Sargent met him as he descended a Whitehouse staircase he told Sargent to go ahead and paint him right now and struck this pose at the foot of the stair.  

The Library of Congress has this photo of the Mural decoration Sargent created  on his 1903 visit, entitled “The Dogma of Redemtion” that Sargent painted for the Boston Public Library. It  is constructed of layers of Byzantine symbolism.

The Dogma of The Redemtion

The Collier's Weekly article provides a description of all this:
The central figure is the Christ upon the Cross, beneath His extended arms being the crouching figures of Adam and Eve, holding chalices to catch the Sacred Blood, while at the foot of the Cross is a pelican piercing her breast to nourish her brood, a symbol of the divine Sacrifice. All these figures are modelled in high relief. Above the Christ are seated the three Persons of the Trinity, their crimson draperies showing against a background of deep blue. Below, the Cross is supported by two angels, on each side of whom are figures bearing the symbols of the Passion, forming a band across the bottom of the painting, so that they correspond with the frieze of the Prophets in the earlier decoration at the other end of the hall. The scheme of color is blue and crimson, gray in the high lights and copiously embellished with gold, the whole toned to a dull lustre as of some painting that the ages have mellowed.
Remissa Sunt Peccata Mundi 
“The sins of the world have been remitted.” 

The Pelican
Sacrificing Itself for its Offspring.

Factus Homo Factor Hominis, Factique Redemptor,
Redimo, Corporeus Corpora, Corda Deus
“I, man's maker, now made man, and redeemer of him I made,
God in flesh, redeem all human hearts and bodies.”

Sargent's death on April 14, 1925 was widely noted. This photo appeared in an article in The Indianapolis Times,  April 15, in an article entitled “Sudden Illness Fatal to Sargent.”

The obituary in The Washington Evening Star was headlined “John Sargent Dies at Home in London.”

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