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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

John Singer Sargent at the Smithsonian

Lately I've been working on updating the listings of works by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) in the Inventory of American Paintings, an online database that records the last known locations of American works of art.  As I was working on this project I wondered: What else is in the Smithsonian that is related to Sargent?  We often become so focused on our own work in the rush to get so much done in so little time, that we forget to widen our view a little bit further and see the magnitude of resources available at the Smithsonian.

It turns out that Sargent is one of the most widely represented artists across the Smithsonian, as well as one of the most popular and well-known American artists. (He was born to American parents, but spent most of his life in Europe.)  His paintings are in four Smithsonian collections: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Portrait Gallery, and Freer Gallery of Art. 

There have been many exhibitions and monographs about Sargent, which can be found in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, including six volumes of the more recent Complete Paintings by the artist's great-nephew Richard Ormond, and Elaine Kilmurray. One of the more interesting books (in my opinion) is a novel written by Countess Eleanor Palffy in 1951: The lady and the painter: an extravaganza, based on incidents in the lives of the two principal characters: Mrs. John Lowell Gardner of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the artist, John Singer Sargent. I used Proquest (available on site at Smithsonian Libraries) to look up reviews of the book and, my oh my, it caused quite the scandal in its day.

Over 2000 paintings and 53 sculptures by Sargent are listed in the Inventories of American Painting & Sculpture. These works are in public and private collections around the world.  Did you know that Sargent, who is most well-known for his paintings, in particular his portraits, was also a sculptor? Many of these are plaster studies for his ceiling reliefs in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Also, about 1700 paintings are listed in the Catalog of American Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.

You can also find Sargent in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Photograph Archives, both as an artist and as a subject. Of note is a photograph of the "John Singer Sargent medal" by Paul Manship, photographed by De Witt Ward. The inscription on the reverse reads "Pegasus Liberated. J.M. to J.S.S. 1923."

Finally, the Archives of American Art contains the letters of Sargent and photographs, all of which are digitized and available to view online. Take a look for yourself, though I must admit, I have trouble reading his handwriting!

Now that is a lot of resources!  I had fun looking for them. Did you know that you, too, can search for items across the Smithsonian museums?  Just click on Collections Search Center and begin your journey!

Pictured, top to bottom:

John Singer Sargent, Marble Fountain in Italy, ca. 1907. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly, 1929.6.108

John Singer Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1888. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.

Paul Manship, Medal for John Singer Sargent, 1923, photographed by De Witt Ward. American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection, Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

--Nicole Semenchuk, Research and Scholars Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum

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