John Singer Sargent, an American portrait painter, was born on January 12, 1856 in Florence, Italy. He was born to American parents that lived in Europe most of their lives. Sargent traveled continuously with his parents during his childhood. He showed art talent at an early age that was encouraged by his mother, who was an amateur painter.
Sargent studied while in Rome at the age of 12 with Carl Welsch, a German-American artist. In 1870, he studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. In 1874, he was accepted at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, however he decided to transfer to the less academically oriented atelier of Carolus Duran. Duran was a portrait painter who blended realism with a certain freedom of style, and served as a great inspiration for the work of Sargent. John Singer Sargent was also inspired by the portrait style of Velasquex, the Tonalism of James Whistler, and the Impressionism of Edgar Degas. Sargent spent much time at the home of Monet in Giverny, where he absorbed Impressionist techniques.
During the early 1880s, Sargent painted street scenes and interiors in Venice. In 1882, he created portraits including The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. His commissions included Madame Pierre Gautreau, a renowned beauty and member of Parisian society who was known for her bold approach towards fashion. He captured her beauty in his painting Madame X, which caused an uproar in France over the “risqué” depiction of Gautreau with a diamond strap falling off of her shoulder. This controversy compromised his career in France, and as a result, John Singer Sargent settled in London in 1886, where he had a highly successful career as a portrait painter for prominent British families such as the Wertheimers and the Marlboroughs. During this time he traveled frequently to the United States, where he continued to acquire many portrait commissions, especially from upper class Bostonians and New Yorkers.
In 1888, John Singer Sargent had a solo exhibition of his paintings at the Botolph Club. During the early 1890s, Sargent began a 25 year mural project for the Boston Public Library. He also painted murals for the Widener Library at Harvard University during this time. In 1906, Sargent abandoned formal portraiture in order to concentrate on plein air landscapes and mural work. He spent the remainder of his career making extended painting trips to France, Italy, and Switzerland. Many of the works he produced on these trips were executed in watercolor.
John Singer Sargent died in London on April 14, 1925. His paintings are in major public collections throughout England and the United States. The collections include Brooklyn Museum; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia; the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Royal Portrait Gallery in London.