John Singer Sargent is one of those great artists who can paint in many mediums and styles and produce quality works and is often referred to as being "leading portrait painter of his generation" . He was also a prolific artist creating approximately 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolours, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings. He also travelled widely and painted Venice, the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida with his watercolours displaying often extremely vivid colours.
Sargent was American (1856 - 1925) His mother believed that travelling around Europe, and visiting museums and churches, would give young Sargent a satisfactory education. Several attempts to have him formally schooled failed, owing mostly to their itinerant life. Sargent's mother was a fine amateur artist and his father was a skilled medical illustrator. Early on, she gave him sketchbooks and encouraged drawing excursions. At thirteen, she reported that John "sketches quite nicely, & has a remarkably quick and correct eye. If we could afford to give him really good lessons, he would soon be quite a little artist."
In 1874, on the first attempt, Sargent passed the rigorous exam required to gain admission to the École des Beaux-Arts, the premier art school in France. He took drawing classes, which included anatomy and perspective, and gained a silver prize. Julian Alden Weir met Sargent in 1874 and noted that Sargent was "one of the most talented fellows I have ever come across; his drawings are like the old masters, and his colour is equally fine."
El Jaleo (Spanish Dancer), c. 1879–82, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
In 1879, at the age of 23, Sargent painted a portrait of teacher Carolus-Duran; the virtuoso effort met with public approval, and announced the direction his mature work would take. Its showing at the Paris Salon was both a tribute to his teacher and an advertisement for portrait commissions. Of Sargent's early work, Henry James wrote that the artist offered "the slightly 'uncanny' spectacle of a talent which on the very threshold of its career has nothing more to learn."
In the early 1880s Sargent regularly exhibited portraits at the Salon, and these were mostly full-length portrayals of women, such as Madame Edouard Pailleron (1880) (done en plein-air) and Madame Ramón Subercaseaux (1881). He continued to receive positive critical notice.His most controversial work, Portrait of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) (1884) is now considered one of his best works, and was the artist's personal favourite. ; he stated in 1915, "I suppose it is the best thing I have done."
On a visit to Monet at Giverny in 1885, Sargent painted one of his most Impressionistic portraits, of Monet at work painting outdoors with his new bride nearby. Sargent was similarly inspired to do a portrait of his artist friend Paul César Helleu, also painting outdoors with his wife by his side. A photograph very similar to the painting suggests that Sargent occasionally used photography as an aid to composition.Although the British critics classified Sargent in the Impressionist camp, the French Impressionists thought otherwise.
Sargent's first major success at the Royal Academy came in 1887, with the enthusiastic response to Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, a large piece, painted on site, of two young girls lighting lanterns in an English garden in Broadway in the Cotswolds. The painting was immediately purchased by the Tate Gallery.
Sargent had no assistants; he handled all the tasks, such as preparing his canvases, varnishing the painting, arranging for photography, shipping, and documentation. He commanded about $5,000 per portrait, or about $130,000 in current dollars.