Sargent at the Amon Carter

Portrait of Carolus Duran by SargentThis weekend I spent a couple hours with four paintings by John Singer Sargent in a new exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. The four paintings were created when the artist was between the ages of 22 and 26, and represent a period of artistic development prior to the Amon Carter’s own portrait by Sargent, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard.

Sargent is well known for his society portraits, and one of the four paintings in the exhibit is a portrait. There is one fact that makes this portrait, as well as the portrait of Alice Vanderbilt Shepard different from many of the others, however. They were not done for commission.

Sargent was friends with his professor, Carolus Duran. The portrait reads as much near the top. Sargent had met Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, who was noted for her astounding beauty, when he was executing a commission for her father, the lawyer and newspaper publisher Elliott Fitch Shepard. Sargent asked permission to make her portrait.

Sargent received an honor for his portrait of Duran, which allowed him to bypass the jury process for inclusion in the Salon. Perhaps that jury process would have saved him from the scandal surrounding his later portrait of Madam X.

Two of the other paintings are Venitian scenes, not of the canals, but of dark allies in working-class districts. The fourth is an oriental scene Fumee d. Ambr Gris, which has been referred to as a “tone poem.” In all the cases Sargent is more interested in the painting than what is represented. While Duran referred to old masters like Valasquez, Sargent was also looking to contemporaries like Degas and Manet, and while Sargent’s portrait work is rooted in tradition, the compositions are decidedly modern.

By Vassil (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Portrait by Carolus Duran

I am continually pulled back to the portrait, however. When I returned home, I began to search online for portraits by Carolus Duran. Indeed you can see the skills and traditions passed from teacher to student. It’s also interesting to compare them to “American” portraits by Thomas Eakins, born 1844 and studying under Gerome in Paris from 1866-1870. Both are well known for their portraits, but Sargent’s society portraits can be compared with Eakins’ portraits known for their intimate information about the sitters.

I also want to say I really enjoy very focused exhibits with a few works. You don’t feel the need to take in an encyclopedic amount of information and can really get to know the works, and more about the artist.

The works are on loan from the Clark collection and accompany an exhibit across the street at the Kimbell, The Age of Impressionism.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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