Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Houston, TX

(713) 639-7300


John Singer Sargent in Houston Collections


John Singer Sargent in Houston Collections, on view October 11, 1998, through November 8, 1998, at the Caroline Wiess Law Building of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, presents a select group of paintings by one of America' s greatest artists.

John Singer Sargent's elegant portraits affirm his reputation as one of the greatest portraitists in western art history. Also a painter of landscapes, Sargent's light-filled canvases of scenes of his travels demonstrate his early assimilation of the techniques of French Impressionists. Emily Ballew Neff, curator of American painting and sculpture at the MFAH, has assembled a group of approximately twenty paintings, both in oil and in watercolor, chosen from private collections in Houston, as well as from the museum's permanent collection.

"What is remarkable about this exhibition is that we can organize a Sargent show based on local collections," said Neff. "Houston is well-known nationally for its strong private collections of American art, including exceptional works by Sargent. Visitors to the museum will now have the opportunity to view works that are rarely, if ever, on public view."

John Singer Sargent in Houston Collections is presented in conjunction with the 1998 annual Grand Gala Ball on Friday, October 9, titled La Belle Epoque. The centerpiece of the ball is Sargent's brilliant portrait, Mrs. Joshua Montgomery Sears (1899), part of the permanent collection of the MFAH (museum purchase with funds provided by George R. Brown in honor of his wife Alice Pratt Brown), shown at right. The ball chairmen are Mr. and Mrs. Stuart W. Stedman. Proceeds from the event benefit the museum's 1998-99 general operating budget .

The exhibition will include several of Sargent' s exquisite portraits, as well as Impressionist landscapes, scenes from his travels around the world, and works from his early years as a student in Paris.

Sargent was the portraitist of choice for the aristocracy of England and the wealthy in America at the turn of the century. His ability to interpret his sitters' personality and hisseductive paint surfaces made him an equivalent of the great European portraitists Anthony Van Dyck in the court of Charles I, or Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough during the reign of George III. Among the portraits on view are Portrait of Mrs. Pym (1900), Countess of Essex (c. 1906-07), and Lady Leonora Speyer (1907).

Mrs. Joshua Montgomery Sears, an expressive painting of one of Sargent' s lifelong friends and fellow artists, is a highlight of the exhibition. The depiction of his subject's white satin dress, the height of 1899 fashion, demonstrates Sargent's exceptional skill in painting the nuances of white and in creating brilliant light effects.

Born in Italy to American expatriates, Sargent was an inveterate traveler, living the life of a cosmopolitan tourist. As his cousin wrote, "Other travelers wrote their diaries, he painted his." Inspired by his friend Claude Monet, Sargent dramatically cropped his compositions and suggested spontaneity with a flickering application of paint. A number of light-filled landscapes and scenes of the sights and people he came in contact with during his travels are represented in the exhibition, including Sunset at Cairo (1891), The Temple of Denderah (1891), A Study of Salmon in Norway (1901), Granada; Sunspots (1912), and Inside a Tent in the Canadian Rockies (1916).

From 1898 until the outbreak of World War I, Sargent's travels included annual visits to Italy, where he painted more than 125 oil and watercolor works of Venice. On loan from a private collection is his exceptional Santa Maria della Salute (1913), which features a stunning play of light across this landmark 17th century Venetian church.

Two pieces in the exhibition represent Sargent's work as a student in Paris in 1876. Young Man in Reverie, an oil on canvas, was painted while Sargent was studying under the society portraitist Carolus-Duran, as was The Model, a watercolor that is part of the permanent collection of the MFAH.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/26/10

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