John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent was a prominent portrait artist throughout Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Born in Florence, Italy in 1856 to two expatriate Americans, Singer was homeschooled by his physician father and encouraged to draw by his amateur artist mother. He attended the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence in 1873 for a year before receiving private tutelage from Carolus-Duran (1837-1917), a leading portraitist in Third Republic France, two years later. In 1876, Sargent traveled to the United States to visit the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and Niagara Falls. Three years later he returned to Europe to travel to Spain, Holland, and Venice after his studies were complete. At this point, his popularity had been established through his portraits, but these visits encouraged him to paint landscapes on the side. In the early 1880’s, Sargent began to gain some notoriety in Paris due to a lack of form and structure to his portraits, so he decided to move to England in 1886 to get away from the negative publicity. He remained in England for the rest of his life, painting his way back into society’s good graces through portraits of Americans and slowly again through portraits of the British.

Through the years, Sargent started painting watercolors and gradually stopped taking commissions for portraits as he grew tired of them. He commissioned many murals for the Boston Public Library, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University which he received a series of commissions for in 1890. By 1907, Sargent no longer took commissions for portraits, enjoying mural paintings only until his death in 1925.