John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), the leading American portraitist of his generation, painted exceptional images of actors, artists, dancers, musicians, and writers. Throughout his transatlantic career, Sargent was inspired by these artistic individuals—many of whom were his friends—and made them the subjects of his most daring and unconventional portraits. The majority of these works were not commissioned, and they are often more highly charged, intimate, and experimental than Sargent's formal portraiture. They are at once penetrating character studies and records of relationships, aspirations, and allegiances. In some instances, these personal works display elements of self-portraiture.
Sargent was deeply engaged in the culture of his time, always open to new influences, and able to nurture friendships with those he admired. He had a broad and eclectic interest in contemporary art and literature and was a gifted pianist and a passionate musicologist. He befriended many creative types, including writers Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson, artists Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin, and composer Gabriel Fauré, among others. These diverse friendships link Sargent to the vanguard of contemporary movements in the arts. The sitters portrayed in this exhibition reveal the range of influences that shaped Sargent's dynamic creative vision and artistic practice.