John Singer Sargent: Watercolors

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), preeminent portraitist of his generation, was born to American parents in Florence, Italy. He received early training in Paris under Carolus-Duran. The artist lived his life largely as an expatriate in Europe, but worked on both sides of the Atlantic in later years.

By 1907, Sargent shifted his attention from formal portraiture to watercolors. During the course of his career, he amassed over two thousand watercolor works. It is reported that even prior to 1907, his studio was filled to overflowing with watercolor works heaped high, all created for private viewing, none for sale. (Joshua Rothman, “Sargent’s Watercolors,” The New Yorker, July 17, 2013.) He regularly utilized both transparent and opaque watercolor techniques, breaking with traditional European transparent technique to achieve a unique, robust vigor. Though clearly absorbed by the capture of light in his works, he did not aspire to the goals or techniques of the Impressionists. Unconfined by subject matter or technique, the results of this large body of work are perhaps unrivaled in the effects of a fluid and lively spontaneity and wondrous light.

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