(metmuseum.org) Here is the famous Madame X, a daring (for the time) portrait of a well-known Parisian beauty.
Why go to see an exhibit almost exclusively made up of portraits? well, partly, because John Singer Sargent does it so well but also because he happened to paint many of the distinguished artists, writers, musicians, actors, dancers and other celebrities of his time, people whose work we care about today. His portraits are sometimes the only record we have of these people, most of whom were his friends. He painted both a portrait of Claude Monet and a lovely scene of Monet himself painting(metmuseum.org) and a reflective, almost sad Rodin. We get a provocative sighting of Robert Louis Stevenson with his wife (barely to be seen)and somber drawings of George Meredithand W.B. Yeats.A musician himself, he painted performers and composers such as Gabriel Faure, a close friend. He seemed enchanted by actors and painted many famous ones, often in costume:
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth,Joseph Jefferson as Dr. Pangloss, and Ruth Draper as a Dalmatian peasant.
Our favorite, however, was his painting of Henry James, whose towering genius looks out at us from under Sargent’s brush.In this wide-ranging exhibit, we witness the move from his early Academy style to the more free-flowing, suggestive works of the years before his death in 1925.There is a mystery about Sargent and I think part of the answer may be in the (to me anyway) homoeroticism of some of his works such as Tommies Bathingand Man on the Beach. Some scholars have suggested he was homosexual but closeted (Wikipedia). While it’s always dangerous to extrapolate from an artist’s life to his work or from his work to his life, I had the feeling he was trying to express something otherwise forbidden to him through his art. See what you think.
Although the Met suggests a contribution of $20, you can give whatever you wish. We are members but my friend proudly gave her $5 and that was just fine.