Painting USA C20 John Singer Sargent 1856-1925 Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883-4 Oil on canvas, 208.6×109.9 cm  – The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

13 October 2023


John Singer Sargent

Lecture by Prasannajit de Silva

The career of John Singer Sargent follows and helped to define art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prasannajit de Silva treated EAC members to an engrossing outline of this important artist’s life and work. Sargent was born in Florence in 1856 to American parents who spent much of their time in Europe. He studied at the Les Beaux-Arts in Paris where he became a student of Emile Carolus-Duran.


Early works included Fishing for Oysters at Cancale, praised for its Impressionist figures and depiction of sky and water. He then achieved some success at painting portraits, including that of his tutor. His style was a distinctive combination of a loose, impressionistic portrayal of fabrics and background but with sharp focus on subject detail. This was often coupled with a chiaroscuro rendering of light and dark and minimal use of colour except for defined highlights. One of his distinctive works displaying these features is The Daughters of Edward Darly Boit, 1882, and displayed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. His painting Madame X, (in fact that of Virginie Amelie Gautreau), caused considerable controversy, being considered too risqué for the time and resulted in Sargent leaving Paris for London. Here he continued his career as a society portrait painter with works such as Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892, and then in 1889 Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth.


In 1907 Sargent decided to give up painting portraits to focus more on landscape. One of his last pictures, and possibly one of his most moving is Gassed, painted in 1919 depicting a line of British soldiers disabled after suffering the effects of Mustard Gas in WW1. This very large work, over 20 ft long is displayed in the Imperial War Museum in London.


Whilst spending some time in America and participating in the founding of galleries there, he eventually returned to London where he died in 1925. Like many great artists, his work fell out of favour after his death, but recently has come back into vogue, and he is now recognised as one of the great and innovative artists of his day.




14 April 2023


Impressionism in Stone – Claude Monet in Venice, 1908

Lecture by Sarah Quill

Venice, with its impressive architecture and canals, has always been a magnet for artists and this was especially true in the in the “Impressionist” period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sarah Quill, an art historian, and photographer, who has lived for many years in Venice, was able to give a very informative description of Monet’s only visit.

The city and its lagoon had been painted many times and Monet, 68 years old at the time, was initially reluctant to accept the invitation, feeling that he had little more to offer. This soon changed however once he began to sample the sights and explore its possibilities. There was just so much to draw his attention. Being almost excessively devoted to capturing the light, he would return again and again to the same location at the same time of day to work on his canvases. Sometimes this would involve sitting in a gondola in all weathers and across the seasons. Monet maintained that ‘it was only the surrounding atmosphere that gave objects real value’. He was always conscious of the need to appeal to his collectors, even to the extent of modifying the view for aesthetic reasons, such as including the collapsed Campellini Tower in his view of the Ducal Palace. He stayed with his wife, Alice Hoschedé, at the Palazzo Barbaro, on the Grand Canal, for much of the visit, enjoying the support of Princesse Winnaretta, heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune.

In all, Monet produced 37 canvases on 11 different subjects in the 10 weeks of his stay, some of which he completed back home at Giverny. Much of what we know of Monet’s experiences and ways of working were detailed by Alice in her letters to her daughter. Monet did intend to return to Venice, but this visit never materialised. Most of his works were exhibited in Paris in 1912, under the direction of Paul Durand-Ruel, gallery owner and Monet’s dealer.