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Title: Sargent
Author: Wood, T. Martin
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Internet Archive)



    MASTERPIECES
    IN COLOUR
    EDITED BY --
    T. LEMAN HARE


                                SARGENT



                           IN THE SAME SERIES


                  ARTIST.               AUTHOR.
                VELAZQUEZ.          S. L. BENSUSAN.
                REYNOLDS.           S. L. BENSUSAN.
                TURNER.             C. LEWIS HIND.
                ROMNEY.             C. LEWIS HIND.
                GREUZE.             ALYS EYRE MACKLIN.
                BOTTICELLI.         HENRY B. BINNS.
                ROSSETTI.           LUCIEN PISSARRO.
                BELLINI.            GEORGE HAY.
                FRA ANGELICO.       JAMES MASON.
                REMBRANDT.          JOSEF ISRAELS.
                LEIGHTON.           A. LYS BALDRY.
                RAPHAEL.            PAUL G. KONODY.
                HOLMAN HUNT.        MARY E. COLERIDGE.
                TITIAN.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
                MILLAIS.            A. LYS BALDRY.
                CARLO DOLCI.        GEORGE HAY.
                GAINSBOROUGH.       MAX ROTHSCHILD.
                TINTORETTO.         S. L. BENSUSAN.
                LUINI.              JAMES MASON.
                FRANZ HALS.         EDGCUMBE STALEY.
                VAN DYCK.           PERCY M. TURNER.
                LEONARDO DA VINCI.  M. W. BROCKWELL.
                RUBENS.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
                WHISTLER.           T. MARTIN WOOD.
                HOLBEIN.            S. L. BENSUSAN.
                BURNE-JONES.        A. LYS BALDRY.
                VIGÉE LE BRUN.      C. HALDANE MACFALL.
                CHARDIN.            PAUL G. KONODY.
                FRAGONARD.          C. HALDANE MACFALL.
                MEMLINC.            W. H. J. & J. C. WEALE.
                CONSTABLE.          C. LEWIS HIND.
                RAEBURN.            JAMES L. CAW.
                JOHN S. SARGENT     T. MARTIN WOOD.

                        _Others in Preparation._



    [Illustration: PLATE I.--LORD RIBBLESDALE. Frontispiece

                (In the collection of Lord Ribblesdale)

    A portrait of the author of "The Queen's Hounds and Stag-hunting
    Recollections": esteemed one of the finest of Sargent's works.]



                                SARGENT

                           BY T. MARTIN WOOD

                         ILLUSTRATED WITH EIGHT
                        REPRODUCTIONS IN COLOUR

                           [Illustration: IN
                            SEMPITERNUM.]

                       LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK
                   NEW YORK: FREDERICK A. STOKES CO.



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


    Plate                                                       Page

      I. Lord Ribblesdale                               Frontispiece
            In the collection of Lord Ribblesdale

      II. La Carmencita                                           14
            In the Luxembourg, Paris

     III. Ellen Terry as "Lady Macbeth"                           24
            In the National Gallery, Millbank

      IV. W. Graham Robertson, Esq.                               34
            In the collection of W. Graham Robertson, Esq.

       V. Carnation Lily, Lily Rose                               40
            In the National Gallery, Millbank

      VI. Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Lady Tennant               50
            In the collection of the Hon. Percy Wyndham

     VII. The Misses Wertheimer                                   60
            In the collection of Asher Wertheimer, Esq.

    VIII. Mrs. A. L. Langman                                      70
            In the collection of A. L. Langman, Esq., C.M.G.



                             [Illustration]


                                   I


Was there ever a more romantic time than our own, or a people who took
everything more matter-of-factly? The paintings of a period contain all
its enthusiasms and illusions. We remember the eighteenth century--at
least in England--by Reynolds' and Gainsborough's art, the seventeenth
century by Van Dyck's; and when we remember the eighteenth century in
France, it is to think of Watteau, who expressed what his world,
drifting towards disaster, cared about--an illusion of a never-ending
summer's day. These names are expressive of their times, and Sargent's
art, with disillusioned outlook, mirrors an obvious aspect of English
life to-day. Above all others he has taken his world as it is, with the
delight in life, in its everyday appearance, with which the
representative artists of any period have been gifted.

Perhaps the next generation will feel that it owes more to him
than to any painter of this time. For the ephemeralities of the
moment in costume and fashion are the blossoms in which life seeks
expression--whatever its fruit. It is agreed that everything is
expression, from a spring bud bursting to a ribbon worn for a moment
against a woman's hair. And who deals with the surface of life deals
with realities, for the rest is guess-work.

Often enough this content to take the world as it is may result in
things which do not charm us, and perhaps Sargent has never been one of
those as fastidious in selection as in delineation. Sometimes he gives
his sitters away--for there are traits in human nature, belief in
thevery existence of which we are always anxious to forego. Nothing
escapes him that is written in the face. Yet he is not cynical, but man
of the world, the felicity of living in a world where everything is
charming being only for those with the gift to live in one of their own
making.

The side of life which he expresses is that in which time seems given
over wholly to social amenities, long afternoons spent in pleasant
intercourse, hours well ordered and protected, so that the most fragrant
qualities in human nature can if they will spring to life. We almost
hear the teacups in the other room, and none of his sitters seem really
alone. We feel they have left the life to which they belong to sit to
the artist but only for an hour or so. The social world to which they
belong will absorb them again. This world Sargent paints. Even in many
of his single figures we are conscious always of its existence in the
background. In portrait after portrait there is scarcely a suggestion of
self-consciousness--but the man or the woman just at the moment of
posing, as if environed still in an atmosphere of their own, and of the
world from which they have withdrawn for the sitting. For it is
Sargent's gift to remove the impression that his sitter has posed, that
the dress was arranged, and his gift to arrest his sitter's habitual
gesture, the impression of sparkling stones, almost the clink of bangles
at the wrist in expression of the moment. Most unjustly was it said that
he could not paint pretty women. It would appear to be within his power
to paint almost anything that has its existence in fact, and if in a
matter-of-fact way, what more to the point if the facts are so beautiful
that fancy itself would have to defer?

    [Illustration: PLATE II.--LA CARMENCITA

                       (In the Luxembourg, Paris)

    Painting of a Spanish Dancer. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in
    1891; acquired by the French Government.]

Supreme is the art of Sargent in its appreciation of those pleasures
which would almost seem for art alone: pearls upon the colour of flesh;
slight transitions of colour charged with great secrets of beauty;
pearls painted as they would be regarded by a lover, as ten thousand
times more beautiful than if they were lying in a box. And the touches
of the brush--for Sargent shows every touch--breathe sympathy with every
change of colour as the chain of pearls falls first across white silk
and then across black velvet, and the little globes take to themselves
new variations. A fan is opened, and upon the ivory sticks the light
like silver trembles, a web of colour is spun across upon the open ribs;
a book is half-open, it may be a Bradshaw, but we will believe it is a
book of old verse, for everything that comes into the picture, the
particular picture of which I am thinking, comes into a charmed circle.
There are people for whom the opulent world of Sargent's art is their
everyday world--whose life competes with the splendour of day-dreams.
How essentially romantic--although so matter-of-fact--must be the art
that leaves us with this impression! To be matter-of-fact is, we see,
far from being unromantic; the reverse indeed is true, for with our face
turned from the world romance vanishes.


                                   II


I once had occasion to call on Mr. Sargent, and was shown into a room
with a black carpet. Only a colourist loves black, and sees it as a
colour. And this room, so free from all that was novel and without
associations, helped to explain to me why, though his method is so
modern and of the moment, his pictures of aristocrats accommodate
themselves to ancestral surroundings. For it is true that not only the
face and the clothes of his sitters are given, but somehow, in the
material of paint, their social position and their distinction. Now this
is not by any means the least of Sargent's qualities; it is not a common
one. Well-bred people drive up to the door of a modern studio almost
visibly cloaked in the traditions of their race, but we are led to
believe that they must have left all this behind them in the carriage
when we see the portrait in an exhibition; the artist has shown nothing
of it, has used his distinguished sitter simply as a model. For lack of
inspiration novelties are proffered in its place, _L'art nouveau_ on
canvas. Sargent does not paint modern people as if they all came into
the world yesterday landed from an airship. No, he is like Van Dyck, who
not only painted the beautiful clothes, the long white hands, and the
bearing of his sitters sympathetically, but also the very atmosphere of
the Court around them, painting, as all great painters do, invisible as
well as visible things. If there is not in Sargent's painting courtesy
of touch, if his method has not suavity in painting elegant people, this
is rather as it should be in an age which trusts implicitly to the
dressmaker and tailor for its elegance. And without a word here as to
the worth of some of our modern aims, at least the age is too much in
earnest for a pose. The poses and fripperies of the pictures of Van Dyck
and Kneller are done with; and besides, the modern baronet is not
anxious to show his hands, but is painted gloved, and Work goes
unimmortalised. Meunier the sculptor and other modern artists having
gloried in the war of labour, its victories go unsung; its victors
surviving only as fashionable men.

The portraits of some painters suggest nothing but the foreign
atmosphere of a studio, but Sargent seems to meet his sitters in the
atmosphere of their own daily, fashionable life, and that is why his
pictures are romantic, for isn't there romance wherever there is wealth?
The people whose wealth is such that they can take as their own
background all the beautiful accessories of aristocratic tradition, are
entitled to them if they like them well enough to spend their money in
this way. And it is the peculiar gift of our age to recognise in
ourselves the heirs of the centuries of beautiful handicrafts, which
we close with our machines. They certainly are the heirs to any kind
of beauty who have the imagination to enjoy it. And the imagination
for past associations, who have this more than the Americans? We
believe in England that all Americans are rich, that they can buy
whatever they appreciate. So by the divine right of things going to
those who appreciate them, the rich American is now, even as Sargent
paints him, environed by old French and English things and their
associations. And in connection with the accessories in Sargent's
pictures, might we not ask the question whether it could not be
considered a test of the worth or worthlessness, from a point of
beauty, of any ornament or furniture whether it would survive
representation in a picture? How much modern stuff we should have to
sweep aside! And now that one thinks of it, modern pictures have
left modern furniture rather severely alone--the painters have not
been faithful to their brethren the makers of modern tables and
chairs. Who is more modern than Sargent--and I am trying to think
has he ever painted a modern room--that is, a room with modern
things in it? The rooms that the most modern people live in are
oddly enough the ones that are most old-fashioned, filled with
eighteenth-century things. This, to reflect upon, has arisen through
thinking about Sargent's interior paintings, which so very vividly and
accurately reflect the attitude of the modern world to its own time.
In that word modern, if we are not using it too often, we must seek
the nature of Sargent's painting, its spirit; it is the most
interesting thing in connection with painting to come as close as
possible to its spirit. And what a test before any work of art, to ask
whether it is worth a search for the incorporeal element; although in
vain, in spite of Walter Pater, does painting aspire "towards the
condition of music," since music is as ghostly as the ghosts that it
contains.

    [Illustration: PLATE III.--ELLEN TERRY AS "LADY MACBETH"

                  (In the National Gallery, Millbank)

    A portrait of Miss Ellen Terry purchased from the Sir Henry
    Irving Sale at Christie's in 1907, and presented to the nation
    by the late Sir Jos. Duveen, who also bequeathed a sum of money
    for the erection of the Turner Room now being added to the
    National Gallery at Millbank.]


                                  III


Dancing has been a theme always appealing to artists because of its
rhythm, its grace in reality, its incarnation of femininity. It contains
all the inspiration for a painter in any one moment of movement. No two
things could be further removed from each other than Lancret's "La
Camargo Dansant" and Sargent's "Carmencita," yet some alliterative
resemblance in the name and some resemblance in the dancers' costumes
bring these two figures together in my mind--the one the fairy
artificial dancer, the princess of an unreal world, the other a vivid
sinuous presentment. With both painters the costume has interested them
as much almost as the figure, for the dress of a dancer, indeed the
dress of any woman, is in a Sargent picture a part of herself, nothing
mere dead matter, everything expressive, the brush having come at once
to the secret that no one material thing is more spiritual than another.
For ever Carmencita stands, waiting for the beginning of the music, just
as La Camargo is caught upon the wing of movement, seeming to revive the
music that was played for her and cheating us with a sense of a world
happier than it is. In Carmencita we have that living beauty from which,
after all, a dreamer must take every one of his dreams. It is Sargent's
wisdom to stand thus close to life. In the sense of this reality, and
the difficulty of approach to it with anything so constitutionally
artificial as a painter's colours, do we apprise the real nature of his
gifts. The roses on La Camargo's dress are artificial roses, but not
more artificial than her face and hands. This figure is only a little
nearer to nature than a china shepherdess, it is the fancy of a mind
cheating itself with unrealities as realities. Sargent himself has
painted artificial things, the rouge on lips, the powder on a face;
since it is natural for some folk to rouge, that is the nature which he
paints. Only an imaginative woman makes herself up. A painter with more
imagination than Sargent would enter into the spirit of her arts.
Sargent's betrayal of his fashionable sitters has frightened many, but
if anything it has increased his vogue; for above everything an
imaginative woman is curious to know what she looks like to others, and
a Sargent's portrait is intimate, unflattering, perfectly candid but
perfectly true as an answer to her question.

Everything on the stage is artificial; what will this art, that has had
of the reality of things all its strength and life, make of a purely
theatrical picture--Miss Ellen Terry in a famous part? The artificiality
of the stage always presents two aspects, that one in which we forget
its artificiality and that other in which we remember it. And this
latter, to my mind, is the aspect in which Sargent has painted this
picture, without, as it were, ever stepping over the footlights into the
world that only becomes real on the other side of them. But the
exactness of his interpretation beautifully explains the scene.

"Carnation Lily, Lily Rose" was painted in a garden by the Thames. Two
children are lighting up the Chinese lanterns, and in their light and
with flowers surrounding, Sargent sees for a moment life itself by
accident made idyllic. The picture is Japanese in its sense of
decoration, as if decoration and idyllic moments always went together.
It would almost seem so from the study of art, for without exception,
those painters who have been conscious of the ideal and idyllic element
in life, have always shown this through composition which, whilst
dealing with a real scene, has taken a little of the reality from it.
There must be an essentially musical element in the art which takes a
mood as well as a scene from nature, and brings us by way of real scenes
to that imaginative country which exists in every nature-lover's mind; a
country partly made up of the remembrance of other places which have
been like the place where he now stands.

Great tiger-lilies hang over the children. We almost expect in these
surroundings pierettes or fantastic lovers, but we are kept close to the
beauty of reality by the naturalism with which the children have been
painted. Not one touch is given as a concession to their fairy and
dramatic background, not one ribbon, nothing in the costume to enable
them to enter into the patterned world of art as part of a design. For
above everything the painter has wished to persuade us of life itself as
a picture, and not of his ability to make these children the motifs of
design. Their ordinariness irritates me personally, they do not seem
quite to belong to their fairy land, but I recognise that this
matter-of-factness peculiarly belongs to Sargent's art and am interested
in the attitude that takes beauty so matter-of-factly.


                                   IV


No one has encountered the beauty of woman's face more casually than
Sargent, no one has made us realise more fully its significance as a
fact in the world. After all we had thought perhaps we were partly
deceived in this matter by the illusions of poets and love-sick
painters, but approaching it without ecstasy, art has not been closer to
this beauty than here. I am looking at a half-tone reproduction of a
lady by Sargent, wondering whether in the history of English portrait
painting an artist has approached as closely to the thoughts of his
sitter. The expression of the face is determined partly by thoughts
within, partly by light without. And it is as if with the touch of a
brush a thought could be intercepted as it passed the lips. This is the
nearest approach that thought has ever had to material definition.
Thought is the architect of her expression, by accuracy of painting it
is copied, just as the back of a fan or bracelet is copied--things so
material as that. So after all thoughts are not so far away from the
material world with which we are in touch; are scarcely less visible
than air. The impressionists have rendered air; and would it be too
far-fetched to hint that the shadow on the lips almost serves to bridge
one province with another, the atmosphere without and that which reigns
within the sitter's mind. It is when Sargent's brush hesitates at the
lips and eyes, at the threshold of intimate revelation, that we really
begin to form an adequate conception of his genius. Yes, of things
fleeting, a thought flitting across the face, interrupted gestures--and
the mysterious suggestion of conversation hanging fire between the
sitter and ourself, Sargent is the master. Sometimes a portrait painter
will create a face on canvas, of pleasant expression, which is not like
his sitter, and it is as if with every touch he could change the
thoughts as he changes the expression in the face he is creating.

    [Illustration: PLATE IV.--W. GRAHAM ROBERTSON, ESQ.

            (In the collection of W. Graham Robertson, Esq.)

    A portrait of the writer of the children's play "Pinkie and the
    Fairies" and many charming children's books illustrated by their
    author, himself an artist of high attainment.]

Sargent's accuracy is such that the expression that passes over the face
in his portraits is one which all the sitter's friends recognise; so
close is he in touch with the delicate drawing, especially round the
lips, that his brush never strays by one little bit into the realm of
invention. There are other painters painting as carefully, faces as full
of expression, who do not come near a likeness of their sitter. In what
provinces close to nature are they wandering, since, striving to paint
the face before them, they paint another face? We must not forget, in
thinking of Sargent's greatness, that he unfailingly is in close touch
with his sitters' expression, that is, almost with their thoughts.

Although Sargent has proved in many landscapes his powers in that
direction, he too well enters into the spirit of the portraiture to
which he has put his hand to attempt to introduce naturalistic effects
into backgrounds obviously painted in a London studio. The landscape
background is sometimes charming if under these circumstances it remains
a convention; for there are moments when nature herself is out of place,
pictures in which human nature must be the only form of life,--with the
exception perhaps of flowers, for these accompany human nature always,
to revelries where sunlight is excluded, and even to the tomb. It is art
of little carrying power that is exhausted upon some transcript of
beautiful detail, colour of the glazes of a vase, a bunch of flowers.
Sargent embraces difficulties one after another with energy unexpended.
Physique, but never genius will give out. Energy of this order always
goes with a generous, because very human, outlook; success on occasion
being modified not through failure to accomplish, but through failure to
respond.


                                   V


The life of a busy portrait painter, with its demand for inspiration
every morning, is of the most exacting nature, and the quality of the
painter's output must of necessity vary. The nervous strain is great,
for sitters are capricious, and always is the temptation present to the
one sin that is unforgivable, compromise with the Philistine--the
concession of genius to stupidity, of perceptions nearly divine to
ignorance. Genius has always had difficulty in working to order, yet
nearly all the great portraiture work in the world has been done to
order. But one imagines that the conditions under which the masterpieces
of a modern painter, with so great a vogue as Sargent's, have been
produced must be unparalleled by anything in the history of ancient
painting. A crowd streamed through the studios of Gainsborough,
Reynolds, and Romney to be painted, but the world was smaller then, and
their art was more easily done. They worked within a convention narrower
than Sargent's, compromising with nature at the very start; a convention
more beautiful than his, a garden, beautiful because it was confined and
seen in an accustomed light. If things are beautiful at all they become
more so when they are no longer unaccustomed, when they fit in with an
old frame of mind. Sargent deals with the unaccustomed--in which at
first perhaps we always see the ugly--whilst, as we have said, he does
not destroy, as the vandalistic art of some painters does, the
connection between the past and present. It is the present which his art
embraces, but we might almost say we are never thoroughly accustomed to
the present until it has become the past. So to us Sargent's art is not
as beautiful as Gainsborough's, for it has constantly to throw over some
old form of perfection to embrace a new difficulty. In the eighteenth
century there was less variety in the life which art encountered. The
life of even a Gainsborough or a Reynolds would be circumscribed in just
the same way that their art is circumscribed, uninterrupted in its mood,
and beauty is to be found in uninterrupted moods.

    [Illustration: PLATE V.--CARNATION LILY, LILY ROSE

                  (In the National Gallery, Millbank)

    This painting was bought for the nation under the terms of the
    Chantrey Bequest in 1887, seven years previous to the painter's
    election to associateship of the Royal Academy.]


                                   VI


Something should now be said of Sargent's method--of that which is
spoken of as his technique. And of method, it is not something to be
separated from the painter's temperament, it is always autographic.
Somehow, temperament shows even in a person's handwriting, giving it
what is really its style, though the fashion of writing imposed upon a
pupil by his master is also called a style. In art there is no word that
is oftener debated. And of those who speak most of style in their own
work, the measure of their self-consciousness in the matter is often the
measure of their distance from it. They are in the position of a
schoolboy taking writing lessons, and their style, if ever they are to
have one, does not begin until thinking and painting have become for
them almost one process. But this is a difficult matter to make clear,
and apology should perhaps be forthcoming for touching on so debatable a
point thus hurriedly. I may have said something perhaps to convey to the
lay reader the significance of the particular method of treating his
subjects which we identify with Sargent. The pupil of Carolus Duran, his
method was formed under the most modern influences; whatever effect
quite another kind of training might have had on Sargent, still nothing
but the traceable element of self would have determined for us his
style. The method of applying paint to canvas has always resolved itself
into more or less a personal question, though certain schools are to be
identified with different ways of seeing; every method is a convention,
and the difference of conventions always one of vision, affecting
handling only in the sense that it has to be accommodated to the vision.
It would be out of place here, perhaps, and far too technical, to define
the difference between such a method as Sargent's and say that of
Pre-Raphaelitism. But roughly, the Pre-Raphaelite concentrates on each
object. For each object, say in a room, is in turn his subject as he
paints that room. The impressionist, Sargent, only has the one subject,
that room, the different objects in it explaining themselves only in so
far as their surfaces and character are defined in the general
impression by the way they take the light--in short, almost an
impression as it would be received on a lens. If we remember all this we
can appreciate the extreme sensitiveness both of Sargent's vision and
touch. For his brush conveys almost with the one touch--so spontaneous
in feeling is his work--not only the amount but the shape of the light
on any surface. Thus the shapes of everything in the picture are finally
resolved, and we might also say without curiosity as to their causes. We
are given the impression, which would have been our own impression:
since in regard to a portrait, for instance, when we meet a person our
curiosity does not immediately extend to such details as the character
and number of buttons on his coat. With this method always goes
spontaneity, Sargent's pre-eminent gift. He values it so highly that he
does not scruple to recommence a picture more than once and carry it
through again in the one mood, if in the first instance his art may have
miscarried, not permitting himself to doctor up the first attempt. To
the constant sense of freshness in his work which such a way of working
must imply, I think a great measure of his vogue is to be attributed,
though others have coloured more prettily, flattered more, and
subordinated themselves to the amiable ambitions of their sitters.


                                  VII


Is it a fancy?--but I see a resemblance between the art of Sargent and
that in writing of Mr. Henry James. The same pleasure in nuances of
effect in detail, and the readiness to turn to the life at hand for
this. To enjoy Sargent is above all to appreciate the means by which he
obtains effect in detail, the economy of colour and of brush marks with
which he deceives the eye, and the quality of subtle colour in the
interpretation of minor phenomena. On the large scale, in the general
effect, the quality of his colour is sometimes uninviting. But when at
its best it takes the everyday colour of things as if it was colour,
without the hysterical exaggeration with which so much youthful
contemporary art attempts to cheat itself and other people. If Sargent's
admirers do not claim that he sees all the colour there is in things,
they claim for him that he sees colour and has the reverence for reality
which prevents a tawdry emphasis upon it for the sake of sweetness of
effect. And after the sweetmeat vagaries, which have followed in the
wake of Whistler, by those without that master's self-control, this is
refreshing.

Sargent's brush seems to trifle with things that are trifling, to
proceed thoughtfully in its approach to lips and eyes. In painting
accessories around his sitters there is the accommodation of touch to
the importance of the objects suggested, and nowadays, since interior
painting is the fashion--to suit the taste of a young man of genius
imposing his peculiar gift upon the time--there are many portraits where
the sitter is brought into line with an elaborate setting out of _objets
d'art_, the painter's pleasure in the treatment of these manifesting
itself sometimes at the sitter's expense. Translating everything by the
methods we have described, Sargent preserves throughout his pictures a
certain quality of paint. The impression of the characteristic surface
of any material is made within this quality, by the responsiveness of
his brush to the subtlest modification of effect which differentiates
between the nature of one surface and another, as they are influenced by
the light upon them at the moment. There are painters who do not
translate reality into paint in this way, but who have striven to
imitate the surface qualities of objects by varying, imitative ways of
applying their paint. Sargent is not this kind of realist.

    [Illustration: PLATE VI.--LADY ELCHO, MRS. ADEANE, AND LADY
    TENNANT

             (In the collection of the Hon. Percy Wyndham)

    A portrait group of the daughters of the Hon. Percy Wyndham. In
    the background is the famous portrait of Lady Wyndham, mother of
    the Hon. Percy Wyndham, painted by the late G. F. Watts,
    O.M.R.A.]

He is a realist in the sense that Goya, the great Spanish painter of
the eighteenth century, was one, for the Spaniard had just such an
eagerness to come closer to the sense of life than the close imitation
of its outside could bring him. Sargent is more polite, less impetuous,
but still it is life as it is, that quickens his brush and informs all
his virtuosity. His technique presents life vividly, but presents it to
us with a sense of accomplishment in art, the equivalent of the
accomplished art of living of the majority of his sitters. I am thinking
of a portrait of a lady, and she is turning the leaves of a book, and in
the lowered eyes, and the movement of the hand, there is more than
arrested movement, there is an expression of an attitude consciously
assumed which ordinarily would have been an unconscious one, and so
accurate is the painting, that the sitter is detected as it were in this
self-consciousness. In portraits of a ceremonial order, for people to
sit in a group with a pleasant indispensable air of naturalness, is of
course an affair on the artist's part of very thoughtful arrangement.
But while composition should not betray the affectation of natural
movement, movement must not be conveyed in a merely sensational,
snapshot manner. For the slightest reflection on this matter will betray
to us that in the latter pretension we are cheated, since we cannot fail
to remember that to complete the canvas the sitter must have recovered
the pose day after day, hour after hour, in the studio. Sargent's
instincts are so tuned to the appropriate, having the tact which itself
is art, that whilst in this kind of portraiture we do not question the
grouping or the movement of his sitters as unreal, we do not accept it
as quite natural. We instinctively know that in proportion as it is made
to look too natural it would be unreal, untrue to the conditions which
the painter's art actually encountered. Sargent, who permits nothing to
stand between him and nature, will not permit such an inartistic lie to
stand between us and the sincerity of his painting. He does not betray
us in his love of what is of the moment, by giving us sham of this kind
instead of the real thing.

At every point at which we take his art and examine it, the evidence all
points to one form of success. The sitters posing are really posing,
their action is not even made unnaturally real as we have shown, and in
the distances in the room round them, there is the reality of space
dividing them from things at the other end of the room. Reality, within
the confines of the particular truths to which his method is subject,
has been the evident intention all through his art. From this standpoint
it often compels admiration in cases where it would have to be withdrawn
were we substituting in our mind another ideal, examining his work, for
instance, only in the light of a sensitive colour beauty which the
painter has not put first and foremost. Some artists have embraced
reality only as it justified their imagination. If we look on Sargent's
art for anything inward except that which looks through the eyes and
determines the smile of his sitter, we shall find our sympathies break
down. Unnecessary perhaps to say this, yet it were as well to make quite
clear the light in which we should regard the work of an artist who has
wholly succeeded in self-expression, the only known form of success in
art.

In analysing some men's work, we wish above all to know them, to know
the mind that thus environs itself. With others it is their art which
tempts us to further and further knowledge of its truths while, as with
Shakespeare, the artist behind it becomes impersonal. Thus it is with
Sargent's art. It is true that if we wish to know an artist we can never
under any circumstances become more intimate with him than in his art,
whether we find him in it far away in remote valleys or at the centre of
fashionable life. And this though the dreamer may be a man of fashion
and the painter of society live a life retired.

Of Sargent's water-colours, much might be said. To some extent they
explain his oils, yet he seems to allow himself in them a greater
freedom, just as the medium itself is freer than that of oils--more
accidental, and the masters of this art control its propensity for
accidental effect as its very spirit, guiding it with skill to results
which baffle and perplex by the ingenuity with which they give illusion.
First, as last, a painter has to accept the fact that he conveys nothing
except by illusion; that he can never bring his easel so close to the
subject, or his materials to such minuteness of touch, that his art
becomes pure imitation; nor can he secure the adjustment of proportion
between a large subject and a small panel which would give in every case
such imitation. The supreme artist accepts the standpoint first instead
of last, and the greater his art becomes, the greater his power in its
mysterious control of effect.


                                  VIII


There are some painters whose work we may personally wholly
dislike--dislike their outlook--even our favourite subjects becoming
intolerable to us in their art. It is something in their nature
antipathetic to our own. Of course, mediocre work does not assume such
proportions in our mind. Then there are painters who, through some
affinity of temperament with our own, make everything their art touches
pleasant to us. And then there are the impersonal artists, Velazquez,
Millais, and Sargent, taking apparently quite an impersonal view of
life. Sargent's world is everybody's world, and if we are affected one
way or another by it, it is as life affects us.

One has heard a painter say, "I can paint those things because I love
them." Judged by his treatment of so many things, of nearly everything,
how much must Sargent love life. One man can paint flowers and another
marble--Sargent paints everything; and, to paraphrase, almost it might
be said that what he doesn't paint isn't worth painting. But all this is
nothing if he never penetrates, as Meissonier and others never
penetrated, below the surface; if he gave no symbols in his art of
things invisible.

    [Illustration: PLATE VII.--THE MISSES WERTHEIMER

             (In the collection of Asher Wertheimer, Esq.)

    Portraits of the daughters of Asher Wertheimer, Esq., the
    eminent art-expert. Mr. Wertheimer is himself the subject of one
    of the best of Sargent's portraits.]

We like some of the subjects he has painted, others we dislike so much
that we wonder he has painted them; just as in life there are people and
surroundings to which we are attracted, and others from whom we keep
away.

To the realist by temperament the effect of the details of any scene
accepted direct from nature provide exciting inspiration, and he least
of all is likely to turn to decorative composition, which, with its
resemblance to a form imposed in verse, only aids in the interpretation
of the subject in proportion as it is imaginatively inspired. A painter
pre-occupied with the opportunities which any incident may offer for the
interpretation of subtleties, will often accept any scene from nature
and almost any point of view as composition. For the old formulas of
composition--of the time when composition was regarded as something to
be taught--went with a decorative conception of things, was in itself a
form of decoration. And whilst it has been said that all art is
decorative, it will perhaps be found that the naturalistic painter is
too much excited with incident to scheme much for a rhythmic
presentation of it in the frame. Such a canvas as Sargent's "Salmon
Fishing in Norway," lately exhibited in the McCulloch collection, a
portrait painted in the open, of a youth resting on the bank of a river
with caught salmon and tackle beside him, the centre of a skilfully
painted piece of landscape, is a case in point. The difficulties which
subjects have presented have often seemed Sargent's inspiration in
landscape: rocks presenting surfaces to the light with a thousand
variations; the wet basins of bronze fountains receiving coloured
reflections and the diamond lights in the fountain splashes; grey
architecture with its soft shadows, architecture white in the sun with
its cool blue shadows, like fragments of night in the doorways. It is
this mysterious sensation of light and shadow alternating everywhere,
changing the colour of the day itself as the day advances, which Sargent
meets. He is one of the few painters who have faced the noon. He has
this great command of art's slender resources, and he is matter-of-fact
enough to be happy at this uncompromising time of day, unbelieved in by
the workers, so inconsiderate to the lazy with its heat. The noon has
not many with its praises, and "all great art is praise." Painters have
got up at dawn to communicate to us its everyday recurring freshness, as
of an eternal spring, and has not evening always been the painter's
hour? Sargent has faced the noon, which demands so much sensitiveness
that the over-sensitive shrink. His brush has given it in water-colours
the finest interpretation it has yet received.


                                   IX


To go back to the matter of composition again. In his portrait groups,
where the mere fact that the sitters have to be grouped implies that he
is not dealing from the start with an impression direct, we find he is a
master of the finest composition, as in his group of Mrs. Carl Meyer and
children. And yet to one who will take not one touch with his brush from
what is not before him, such a view of his subject must be incalculable
in its difficulties.

The painter has never made a passage of painting the excuse for
incongruity. The arrangements in his pictures are always probable. It is
legitimate in many cases that they should only be imaginatively
probable. Any arrangement is probable in a studio, and affording
themselves too much licence in this respect some painters wonder why the
public are inclined to discredit most of what they do. The logical
quality, the sanity of Sargent's art is yet another reason for its
vogue; it has not the unreasonableness of studio production, it commends
itself to a world that perhaps is not wrong in assuming that the
artistic licence is applied for by those who are not sane. Sargent has
on occasion had to resort to all sorts of devices to obtain effects
and composition that he has desired, but he has always kept faith with
the public, and had the true artist's regard for their illusions. He
allows his sitters to wear their best clothes, but he never dresses
them up; no, to please him they must wholly belong to the life of
which they are a part, it is the attitude in which they interest him
and all of us. We have then to think of Sargent not only as a painter,
but as the maker of human documents--like Balzac, the creator of
imperishable characters--with this advantage over Balzac, that all his
characters have especially sat to him. It is how posterity will
undoubtedly regard this array of brilliant pictures. Of the people they
will know nothing but the legend of their actions and Sargent's record
of their face. We have undoubtedly felt that when a man of real
distinction of mind has worn them, the top hat and cylindrical trouser
leg were not so bad. They have indeed, under the influence of
personality, seemed on occasions the most august and distinguished
garments in the world. But there must come disillusion, the humour of it
all will some day dawn, but it will not be before a Sargent picture. He
has at any rate immortalised those things, just as Velazquez has made
beautiful for ever the outrageous clothes in which his Infantas were
imprisoned. We are reconciled to such things in art by the same process
as we are in life, in Sargent's case by the unforgettable rendering of
the distinction of many of his sitters.


                                   X


It is the work of the secondary artist that is always perfect--of its
sort; for it will not accept its reward, to wit, the finished picture,
until the last effort has been expended. With the masters of the first
order, it is otherwise. We have said they paint as they think; who but
the amateur always thinks at his best? When a man's art has become a
part of him, it suffers with his moods. He always works, and his work is
always his companion, an indulgence. In his exalted moments it rises to
heights by which we estimate his genius, but which sensible criticism
does not expect him to live up to, any more than we expect a brilliant
conversationalist always to be equally brilliant. This is why a master's
work is always so interesting. That it has become so flexible an
expression of his own nature is its charm, if we really regard it as
art, and do not look upon the artist as a manufacturer who must be
reliable, who having once turned out of his workshop a work of
surpassing perfection, must be expected to keep to that standard or be
classed with the defaulting tradesman whose goods do not come up to his
sample. A painter makes or mars his own reputation by the care or
carelessness of his work, but it is his own work, and he is not under
any obligation to us to keep it up to a certain standard if it does not
interest him to sacrifice everything for that standard. Sargent's work
has been splendidly unequal. Sometimes it has been disillusioned, tired,
at other times all his energy has seemed gathered up into a _tour de
force_. An intensity there is about Sargent's earlier work which we
cannot find in some of his later pictures, sureness of itself has
brought freedom and with it freedom's qualities, which we must take
pleasure in for their own sake.

    [Illustration: PLATE VIII.--MRS. A. L. LANGMAN

           (In the collection of A. L. Langman, Esq., C.M.G.)

    A portrait of the wife of A. L. Langman, Esq., C.M.G., who
    served with the Langman Field Hospital, in connection with the
    equipment of which for the South African War his father, Sir
    John Langman, Bart., is remembered.]

It is frequently enough the weakness of painters to return constantly in
their art to some particular gesture or arrangement in which their
mastery is complete. This has not been the case with Sargent; instead,
his mastery has completed itself only through a constant encounter with
new difficulties.

A quality of all great art is reticence, something which will never let
the master, to whom it is not disastrous to be careless, be so; for
carelessness nearly always means over-statement, and exaggeration. Ah!
just the qualities if a work of art is to arrest attention in a modern
exhibition. A common question at the Royal Academy is "Where are the
Sargents?" by some enthusiastic visitor who has passed them several
times. No, Sargent's victories do not startle, winged victories do not,
but advertisements do.


                                   XI


Sargent was born of American parents in Florence in 1856, and passed his
boyhood there. No art, it would seem at first, is further away than his
from all the Florentine traditions, and yet in the decorative colour
values, which give distinction to his finest works, he is the child of
Florence. The Renaissance attitude towards life itself was highly
imaginative, so into visionary art reality was carried. Consulting the
origin of all their visions, the Florentines returned imaginatively to
what was real. It is the beauty of reality which is the fervour of their
great designs, and as a humanist, Sargent is their descendant.

When, at the age of nineteen, he came to Paris, he was already, we are
told, an artist of promise, and he went to Carolus Duran with youth's
conscious, ardent necessity of embracing a fresh view of the world
altogether. The lighter touch of Carolus Duran, the worldly painting,
the lively art of things living, if a superficial art, was refreshing,
no doubt, to one accustomed only to the beautiful memories of ardour
expressed five centuries before. And superficiality, demoralising to the
superficial, could only give some added swiftness to a brush inclined to
halt with too much intensity whilst life, its one enthusiasm, was racing
by. He never experimented under Carolus Duran. He was beginning that
unerring sensitiveness of painting, which is only learnt by drudgery,
the almost luxuriously easy virtuosity, before the acquirement of which,
complete freedom of expression cannot begin, or sympathy declare itself
as from a well-played instrument.

An artist with individuality is careless of asserting it, and it is
perhaps just the one thing in the world which cannot but assert itself.
Those who strive for originality through the unaccustomed may without
hesitation be put down as those who are without confidence in their own
nature. The individuality of Sargent, as striking as any in his day, is
unself-consciously expressed. If we could strain from a work of art the
self-conscious, which is always the unnatural element, all that ever
gave it any force would still be left in it. Submitted to this test, how
much so-called originality would crumble, while the individualism of
Sargent still remained.

When leaving the studio of Carolus Duran, he painted a portrait of that
painter, a summing, as it were, of all he owed to him before he courted
another influence. He went to Madrid, there to study the living elements
of art in the school of a dead master, Velazquez, in whose life
encompassing art nothing has gone out of fashion--no, not even the
farthingale which the children wear. It was early in the eighties that
the Spanish visit ended and Sargent worked in Paris, already a man of
note, for the Carolus Duran portrait had been followed by "Portrait of a
Young Lady," exhibited in 1881, and "En route pour la Pêche" and "Smoke
of Ambergris." In 1882 he exhibited the _tour de force_ "El Jaleo," the
sensation of the season, and immediately afterwards the "Portraits of
Children"--the four children in a dimly-lighted hall, one of the most
well-remembered of his pictures of that time. Then came the wonderful
"Madame Gautreau." Paris was his headquarters but his visits to England
were frequent, and they grew more frequent as the time went on and as
his reputation grew in London. It was about half-a-dozen years after the
Spanish visit that he came to this country to live here permanently and
make his art our own. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy
in 1894, a Royal Academician in 1897.


                                  XII


We should say something of Sargent's influence on contemporary art,
which has been immense. It has been thought that, deceived by the
brilliance of his results, with their great air of spontaneity, younger
painters have been led astray. This, we believe, is a mistake. The
weakest go to the wall, but it is probable that the example of Sargent
has succeeded in lifting the whole standard of painting in the country,
bringing--even the great incompetent, within measuring distance of a
useful ideal; an ideal of sympathy disciplined with every touch, and an
ideal of difficult things. Is not Art always difficult? It has been so
to Sargent, with everything at his fingers' ends; with everything so
much at his fingers' ends that under special circumstances he once
completed a life-size three-quarter length portrait in a single day. He
was in America, and had promised to paint the portrait. The sittings
were put off, and at last the friend who was to sit was suddenly called
away; but Sargent came with his materials in the morning, and the sitter
gave him the day. They were probably both nearly dead at the end of it,
but a large finished painting had been begun and ended.

Sargent's countrymen have appreciated every manifestation of his gifts.
Lately he exhibited eighty-three of his water-colours in Brooklyn. He
will not part with them singly. Brooklyn enthusiastically bought the
whole collection for its Art Museum.

Fame has not spoilt his retiring nature, and even by his art a barrier
is raised, in front of which the master will not show himself, but I
hope it is an intimacy that we have established with him in his art.
Mine is but the privilege of murmuring the introduction, and any charges
to be brought against me must be laid at Sargent's door. For a great
artist creates not only his art, but that which it inspires. This is
indeed the mysterious province of artistic creation; the artist creating
beyond his art that which comes into our minds through contact with it;
so framing our thoughts and setting in motion waves infinitely continued
in the thoughts that pass through every man to his companions.


  The plates are printed by BEMROSE & SONS, LTD., Derby and London The
                text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh



                           Transcriber Notes:

Passages in italics were indicated by _underscores_.

Small caps were replaced with ALL CAPS.

Throughout the document, the oe ligature was replaced with "oe".

The illustrations have been moved so that they do not break up
paragraphs and so that they are next to the text they illustrate. Thus
the page number of the illustration might not match the page number in
the List of Illustrations.

Errors in punctuation and inconsistent hyphenation were not corrected
unless otherwise noted.





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