Society Portraits Of Artists By John Singer Sargent

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 45 months ago
Society Portraits Of Artists By John Singer Sargent ★★★☆☆ 3
This is Sargent's first formal dual portrait of Édouard and Marie-Louise Pailleron, children of a playwright.  Copyright: Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa
This is Sargent's first formal dual portrait of Édouard and Marie-Louise Pailleron, children of a playwright. Copyright: Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa
Only in his later career did Sargent start to move towards Impressionism as in this group with parasols.
Only in his later career did Sargent start to move towards Impressionism as in this group with parasols.
The author Robert Louis Stevenson is one of many famous subjects in this exhibition. Courtesy of the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio
The author Robert Louis Stevenson is one of many famous subjects in this exhibition. Courtesy of the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio
Dame Ethel Smyth was a composer, yet another important contributor to the arts drawn by Sargent. Copyright: National Portrait Gallery, London
Dame Ethel Smyth was a composer, yet another important contributor to the arts drawn by Sargent. Copyright: National Portrait Gallery, London
Fellow painters are represented like Carolus-Duran here. Sargent was also close friends with Monet. Copyright: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts
Fellow painters are represented like Carolus-Duran here. Sargent was also close friends with Monet. Copyright: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

John Singer Sargent was painting at a time when art was about to be revolutionised with the arrival of Impressionism, a sweeping change that would transform the world of art. He was a well cultured individual — the son of an American doctor, born in Florence and going on to paint in Italy, France and England.

This exhibition brings together over 60 of his paintings and drawings that captured the art scene — it reads like a who's who of late 19th and early 20th century artistic society. Sitters for his paintings include the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, sculptor Auguste Rodin and his good friend and fellow painter Claude Monet.

Sargent was a talented portraitist and there are some excellent examples of his work on display, including his famous Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose — a romanticised vision of two girls with lanterns in a field of flowers, and a painting of actress Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth with a striking pose and piercing eyes.

In his later career he started to move towards Impressionism but never really mastered it. Sargent was a brilliant painter and the National Portrait Gallery has done an excellent job with this exhibition. However, when compared to the way his contemporaries were challenging the boundaries of art, Sargent's work often fails to excite.

Sargent: Portraits of artists and friends is on at National Portrait Gallery, WC2, until 25 May. Tickets are £14.50 for adults, concessions available. Also still on its final weeks is this year's Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and the social commentary of Grayson Perry's works.

For more art to see in London, see our top 10 openings for February.

Last Updated 14 February 2015