John Singer Sargent is best known as the brilliant painter of Edwardian High Society, introducing his sitters to themselves and their world in paintings which celebrated their wealth and glamour in oil paint equally rich and dashing. But the full story of his achievements is far more diverse and complicated than that description allows.
Born American, growing up all over Europe and trained in Paris, Sargent’s was a truly cosmopolitan talent; making his home and his career in England he never lost his keen outsider’s eye for the whims and vagaries of society, and his portraits were noted even among his admirers for their unsettling tendency to go deeper than simply appreciative observation. Watching the world was his true passion and he also loved to paint vibrant, sunlit landscapes which challenge comparison with the work of the Impressionist friends of his Parisian youth. He also had an unexpected enthusiasm for mural painting which found expression in ambitious works for the Boston Library and Museum of Art, where his expertly choreographed and powerfully symbolic compositions brought him both controversy and deep personal satisfaction. And when the society he had immortalised fell apart on the killing fields of France and Flanders, Sargent was still there: his images of gassed soldiers - and of the generals who commanded them to their less-than-glorious deaths - as closely observed and sharply pointed as ever.
Through the study of Sargent’s works and career this day school explores a remarkable and multi-talented painter whose claim that “I chronicle, I do not judge” does not begin to do justice to his powerful record of the extraordinary and rapidly changing times in which he lived.