Saturday, January 29, 2011

Visits with John Singer Sargent

Imagine eating lunch with John Singer Sargent, then having him take you to his studio and ask you for your thoughts on one of his paintings in process! Here is Cecilia's account of such a time:

"I had seen a good many of Sargent's paintings and had keenly felt his power. We had letters to him, and, although I had always shied at the moment of such presentation, feeling it to be a mean advantage, we sent him our "ticket of admission." His instant and kindly reply invited us to lunch with him at his club. His appearance was a surprise, though, of course, we had often heard him described. The fact that there was no flavor of the studio about him was no impediment for us, for we did not belong, ourselves, to the group who thought it necessary to carry about with them the labels of their profession. There were fewer cigarettes at that time, but many of the devotees of painting thought grimy velveteen, and a slouch, the proper uniform for artists, male and female.

We were gay. There was so much to talk about that we all, for the time, forgot our calling; at least we did not discuss it, except that I remember Sargent pointed out especial opportunities that might be ours just then, for seeing pictures, etc., outside the well-known galleries. He took us to his studio in Tite Street, where he was at work upon the central painted bas-relief for the "Christianity," in the series of "Religions," destined for the Boston Library.

Sargent was apparently much puzzled as to the treatment of one part of the design of the Cross, with figures of Adam and Eve: he was a very shy man, and his almost stammering appeal to me as to what I thought of the problem, and how to solve it, was that of an eager, anxious self-doubter. I was filled with confusion, but concealed it, and knew, of course, that I was only a fresh eye, and that it must all be taken as the most natural thing in the world. I said what I thought, and he listened in exactly the same mood. I saw that his "worldly" appearance, manner, and speech were a sort of armor for his sensitiveness, though not an armor put on by him, for he was homogeneous.

There were no portraits about, and very little of any kind of furnishing, but it was a grand large place, and somehow good, and extremely suggestive of the style and simplicity of all his best things. As everyone knows, Sargent was not a collector, and satisfied his beauty sense in the glamour that for him hung about every person and object, and to which most of the world is blind, though, of course, his high culture and lifetime familiarity with the Art of the Old World in all its phases had been always with him.

I saw him again long afterwards, at lunch at Mrs. Gardner's, at Fenway Court. She had given him the Dutch Room as a studio, and he was engaged on his portrait of Mrs. Fiske Warren and daughter, which he allowed us to see, in its unfinished state. I regret that this was the only time I ever saw any of his portrait painting en passage."
(from Background with Figures by Cecilia Beaux)

Mrs. Fiske Warren and Daughter


  1. I love stories like that, too...It makes historic facts come to life...