The Metropolitan's collection of drawings and watercolors by John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), the renowned expatriate American painter based in England, is extraordinary in size and variety. This publication—the first volume to appear in a series documenting the Museum's American drawings and watercolors—catalogues all 337 sheets by Sargent and every page from four sketchbooks, and analyzes them within the artist's oeuvre.
Sargent is, of course, best known for his portraits, which secured his international patronage and reputation. However, he always traveled widely and drew and painted people, places, and things that captured his attention. This pattern began during an unusually peripatetic childhood, persisted through his student years, and marked his mature career, when he worked on murals and subject pictures as well as portraits. After about 1905, when his fame reached its apogee, Sargent declined most portrait commissions and spent more time traveling—for pleasure and for mural research—and recording his experiences, especially in dazzling watercolors.
The Museum's collection illuminates all aspects of Sargent's career. The drawings and watercolors in particular reflect his activity outside the portrait studio: his sojourns in Spain, Morocco and elsewhere in North Africa, and in the Middle East; his enduring fascination with Venice; his holidays in the Italian lake district and the Alps; his tours of North America, including Florida and the Rocky Mountains; his visit as an official war artist to the western front in 1918; and his work as a muralist at the Boston Public Library, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Harvard University's Widener Library.
The Metropolitan enjoyed a friendly relationship with Sargent, purchased canvases and watercolors from him, and maintained a cordial connection with his sisters after his death. In 1950 the Museum received from his sister, Mrs. Francis Ormond, a magnificent gift: twenty-four oils, more than three hundred drawings and watercolors, four sketchbooks, and several miscellaneous works. The Ormond donation formed the core of the Museum's remarkable Sargent holdings, which has been amplified by other gifts and purchases.
Sargent's reputation had ebbed during the decades that followed his death. The 1980s witnessed a revival of interest in him that is now at a peak. His virtuoso portraits are as popular with collectors as they were with his patrons. His vibrant outdoor scenes have made him one of the most cherished American practitioners of Impressionism. His bravura watercolors have earned him acclaim as a master of the medium. Sargent studies and popular exhibition have proliferated.
This heightened awareness makes the scholarly examination of Sargent's drawings and watercolors by Stephanie L. Herdrich (research associate) and H. Barbara Weinberg (Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture) in this catalogue all the more timely. This volume also contains an essay on Sargent's materials and technique by Marjorie Shelley, Sherman Fairchild Center for Paper and Photograph Conservation. A chronology of the artist's life and an exhibition history (1877–1926) are included, as is a selected bibliography. This comprehensive catalogue illuminates Sargent's multifaceted career and invites appreciation of his accomplishments as represented in the Metropolitan's superb collection.