The Arts in Society’s Updates
Sargent & His People
nybooks.com | Article Link | by Jean Strouse
At the age of fifty-one, with his work in high demand on both sides of the Atlantic, John Singer Sargent swore off painting portraits. He had been eager for some time to escape the confines of the studio, the pressures of multiple sittings, and society portraiture altogether. “No more paughtraits,” he wrote to a friend in 1907. “I abhor and abjure them and hope never to do another especially of the Upper Classes.” He had been charging a thousand guineas a portrait “in order to have fewer to do,” he told another friend, but price did not discourage his affluent clientele.1 A Max Beerbohm cartoon shows the portly, bearded artist peering out the window of his London studio in alarm at a queue of fashionably dressed ladies, with uniformed bellhops holding places in line for more.
Sargent made exceptions to the portrait ban for friends, and for eminences such as Lord Curzon, the archbishop of Canterbury, John D. Rockefeller, and Woodrow Wilson (he turned down Pierpont Morgan). Yet for the most part, once he had slipped the silken shackles of commissions, he turned his attention to painting murals for the Boston Public Library, and to doing more of what he had loved all his life: traveling, often with artist friends, and working outdoors in natural light.