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John Singer Sargent on PBS

 
 
Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 02:29 pm
Did anyone else catch the documentary on the works of Sargent on PBS this month? I saw it in HDTV and it was extraordinary. There's always been speculation as to whether he was homosexual -- there is no evidence he ever had a heterosexual relationship and artwork depicting rather homoerotic poses of the male figure are all one has to go on. His concentration of the fashion of the day in the portrait paintings may be another indicator. I was astounded at the beauty of the watercolors and his later paintings of Venice after he gave up portrait painting (vowing to never paint another).
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Type: Discussion • Score: 1 • Views: 1,782 • Replies: 16
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Dartagnan
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 02:39 pm
There was a wonderful Sargent show at the Seattle Art Museum a few years ago, and I went several times. Wonderful stuff. The show included a series of portraits he did of a wealthy family, with two beautiful daughters. I couldn't take my eyes off them.

Re his sexuality: Whatever. My vote is with those who think he never acted on it, either way, but who knows.
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Lightwizard
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 02:56 pm
It's always interesting to suppose what any famous person's sexuality was composed of but I guess unless one know someone who dated them...

The portraits cannot take their eyes off the viewer -- the illusion of reality is astonishing. That he really loosened up and became more impressionistic in the later landscapes and figurative work is gratifying and has its own beauty. One of his critics stated they were images of a common tourist. That, of course, is just perceived to day as rather silly.
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Lightwizard
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 02:58 pm
His close relationship with Henry James who was definitely homosexual is also telling -- Sargent painted more than one portrait of the author.
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sozobe
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 02:58 pm
When I was seriously into portraiture, Sargent was my idol. Later, I found him a tad too prettified, too willing to pander for commissions. Lovely technique, though.
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Lightwizard
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 03:02 pm
I think the fact that the clients wanted him to be flattering was likely one reason why he abandoned the portrait painting. However, the composition in many of the portraits is really inspired -- asymetry taken to the limits. He was still pushing out the envelope for his time and the art critics of the time were often taken aback by his departure from tradition. Now he doesn't seem as revolutionary but that is natural.
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sozobe
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 03:09 pm
I just read a really interesting article, I assume this must've been included in the PBS special, that the Madame X portrait is really a portrait of a beautiful young man he was in love with, who was similar in appearance.
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Dartagnan
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 04:04 pm
Re James as homosexual: I'm not up to speed on his bedroom behavior, either, but my supposition all these years is that he, like Sargent, was celibate...

Again, I tend not to care about what these guys got up to during their free time, but chacun a son gout...
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Lightwizard
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 04:30 pm
James, of course, never came out of the closet or was outed like Oscar Wilde but the documentation of his liasons with good looking young men is very potent proof. His novels are imbued with indications of his own sexual preference. Sargent, on the other hand, was far more discrete if he did have any relationships with men that made it to the bedroom. Considering there are many celebrities today that are equally closeted, I don't doubt what could be said by many as just too obvious to ignore. If Gore Vidal hadn't written "The City and the Pillar," we might all still be guessing. Of course, Norman Mailer used his knowledge of it as a weapon. Both he and William Buckley lost liable suits to Vidal.
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Lightwizard
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 04:32 pm
I didn't mean the discourse to concentrate on that one aspect except that I believe this sexual orientation does influence all of his work.
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Lightwizard
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 04:33 pm
(And certainly not necessarily in a bad way unless one wants to describe his painting as more decorative than of serious substance which I disagree).
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Greyfan
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 05:53 pm
Local museums here in Orlando (OMA and the Morse) have some Sargents and they always leap out at me when they are displayed. Powerful work.

While I agree that a person's sexual preferences can and probably usually do influence their art, I must confess I am too dense to pick up on it myself unless it is blatantly contained in the subject matter.

Wish I had seen the special. Will look for it in reruns.
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sozobe
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 06:07 pm
I find it interesting in a general way, like the aspect of reassuring gay/ lesbian kids that all of these famous people were themselves gay/ lesbian, but it's the stuff like Madame X actually being a man he was infatuated with that really interests me. (Anyone else recall this article? New Yorker or NYT, can't remember when.)
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Dartagnan
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 06:10 pm
I do recall seeing that article, sozobe, but I can't recall where, either. I've read so much about the woman who was the subject of the portrait that it was a bit surprising to read that revisionist view.
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sozobe
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 06:10 pm
OK, I found the abstract, but the whole article doens't seem to be on the web anywhere (searched Google by title.)

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F50815F63A5B0C7B8DDDAC0894DB404482
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Lightwizard
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 10:20 pm
I've never run across that speculation you are mentioning. The portion of the program where they approach the homosexuality presents some of the drawings of young men including those that are particularly homoerotic. They don't go into much more detail but a lot has been written about the subject including two biographies. I haven't read them in so many years, I can only vaguely recollect but I can remember being convinced he must have been gay.

The portrait I think you're talking about caused a bit of a scandal at its first showing -- is it the one with the black dress (show, incidentally, in a show that contained mostly female nudes).
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sozobe
 
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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2004 10:33 pm
Yes, his most famous (don't think it's too arguable) painting. Caused a huge scandal.

I can't find the sketches that showed the incredible similarity between the young man's profile and Madame X's, but here is a painting of him by Sargent, you can sort of see the resemblance:

http://www.jssgallery.org/Thumbnails/Albert_de_Belleroche_T.JPG
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