Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Boston, MA



Sargent: The Late Landscapes


Fourteen paintings and watercolors by John Singer Sargent, never before shown together and representing an overlooked aspect of the artist's career, will be on view at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the exhibition "Sargent: The Late Landscapes." Completed between 1905-1917, the works were selected for their visual and thematic significance, and come from collections throughout the United States and England. Among the works on view will be the Gardner's own newly-cleaned painting Yoho Falls and Harvard University Art Museum's Lake O'Hara. The exhibition will be on view from May 21 through September 26, 1999.

According to Anne Hawley, director of the Gardner Museum, "The Museum's founder was a patron of John Singer Sargent, and, today, the Museum maintains its role as a patron of the arts, not only looking back at such artists as Sargent and sharing new scholarship, but involving living artists in the programming of the Museum. Art has the power to transform human experience and nurture our creative imaginations, and forays into the world of art are as necessary to human life as breathing."

Sargent, a long-time friend of Isabella Stewart Gardner and best known for his salon portraits, painted landscapes in private for his own enjoyment. By 1907, Sargent had turned away from painting people, refusing commissions from wealthy Americans and Europeans who wished to be his subjects, and devoting himself to the study of landscape. Painted in Palestine, Switzerland, the French Alps, the Italian Apennines, the Rocky Mountains, and Florida, these landscapes mark an important departure in which he explored stylistic avenues at the forefront of modernism while reflecting a late Victorian interest in unspoiled nature.

This exhibition reflects upon Sargent as a landscape artist and examines his late paintings, previously dismissed along with this phase of his career as conservative and escapist. Cultural and aesthetic Issues of the times are explored in the accompanying, fully-illustrated color catalogue with essays by Dr. Hilliard T. Goldfarb, the Museum's former chief curator of collections and organizer of the exhibition; Dr. Erica E. Hirshler of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, an extensively published specialist on the American Impressionists; and Professor T. J. Jackson Lears of Rutgers University, an eminent historian and a specialist in American culture at the turn of the century.

In seeking to understand the artist in this period from his own writings, Dr. Goldfarb examined Sargent's letters to Isabella Stewart Gardner, one hundred and ninety eight in all, composed over a period of thirty-eight years. These letters, his correspondence with his friends and colleagues in America and abroad, and the writings of his long-time assistant and traveling companion revealed that Sargent, except in regard for his concern for family, was not apt to muse openly on his inner emotional life. His cousin, Mary Hale noted, "Other travelers wrote their diaries, he painted his."

Based on archival material from the Gardner Museum, Sargent's letters, and recollections by friends, Dr. Goldfarb presents candid, amusing, pithy, and practical observations by the artist on travel and work as he sought exotic motifs and escaped his patrons wanting portraits. In a letter to an English woman in 1907, Sargent was straightforward, "I have vowed a vow to do no more portraits ... it is to me positive bliss to think that I shall soon be a free man."

The liberty Sargent craved was expressed in the late landscapes, among the most experimental, modern abstract works of his career. Sargent's modernist tendency as an experimental painter in his late work is the focus of new research by Dr. Hirshler. In her essay for the exhibition catalogue, Dr. Hirshler views Sargent's late landscapes in the context of twentieth-century art and examines the painter's complex and ambivalent relationship with modernism. Despite Sargent's distaste for the work of contemporary symbolist and abstract painters, he remained an experimental and inquisitive artist in his later work, particularly in landscapes.

Complementing Hirshler's essay, Dr. Lears will place Sargent's landscapes in context of the nineteenth century when, for many affluent, urban Americans, nature had been transformed from fact to myth. As the industrial revolution transformed the nation, a sense that nature was vanishing from their everyday lives made them eager to embrace images of nature in art and literature as evidenced by the popularity of works by Frederick Jackson Turner and John Muir, to name just two examples. Dr. Lears's essay explores the social, philosophical, and artistic influences of the times and the great interest in landscapes in nineteenth-century cultural circles.

"Sargent: The Late Landscapes" complements a retrospective of Sargent's work at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on view June 27 through September 26, 1999 as well as exhibitions of Sargent work at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University and the Boston Public Library.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation have provided major support for the research and development of this exhibition and catalog. BankBoston has generously sponsored the presentation through marketing and community access initiatives.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, located at 280 The Fenway in Boston, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults ($11 on weekends), $7 for seniors, $5 for college students, and free for members and children under 18. College students with current ID are $3 on Wednesdays. (information as of 4/99)

Images from top to bottom (click on thumbnail images to enlarge them): Simplon Pass: Avalanche Track, 1911, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Carrara: A Quarry, 1911, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Palmettos, 1917, private collection; Glacier Streams: The Simplon, c. 1911, Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA; Yoho Falls, 1916, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; Alpine Pool, 1909, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Master and His Pupils, 1914, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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