By 1900, John Singer Sargent’s notoriety as a portrait painter had earned him a ceaseless flow of commissions from prominent families in both England and the United States. But he grew tired of the demands and restrictions of these grand manner portraits, and began spending part of each year in Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and Spain. On these trips, Sargent completed a number of vibrant plein-air oil sketches.Valdemosa, Majorca was painted during the autumn of 1908, when the artist accompanied his sister Emily and her friend on a trip to Valdemosa, a small town in Majorca, part of the Balearic Isles off the east coast of Spain.
This expressive study reflects Sargent’s assertion that “enormous views and huge skies do not tempt me.” Avoiding the broad, panoramic views of conventional landscape compositions, the artist instead used vibrant colors and loose brushstrokes to depict a small patch of rocky ground tangled with vegetation. With its freedom of subject matter and technique, Valdemosa, Majorca: Thistles and Herbage on a Hillside, reveals a different side of the artist best known for his formal society portraits.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II, pages 122-125, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/American%20Paintings%20of%20the%20Nineteenth%20Century%20Part%20II.pdf
on reverse, visible before relining: estate stamp
Estate of the artist; (his estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 24 and 27 July 1925, first day, no. 105); (M. Knoedler & Company, London and New York) on joint account with (T.H. Robinson); sold 1958 to Thomas K. Ware; by inheritance 1963 to his wife, Lenore Caldwell Woodcock, Huntington, New York; (Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 25 April 1980, no. 77); private collection, Brookline, Massachusetts; (Jeffrey R. Brown Fine Arts, North Amherst, Massachusetts), in 1981; Virginia Bailey Brown, North Amherst, Massachusetts; gift/purchase 1991 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Paintings by the Late John Singer Sargent, R.A., M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1925, no. 5.
- A Century of American Landscape Paintings, 1800-1900, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1938, no. 61.
- Extended loan, Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, Long Island, New York, 1967-1974.
- American Impressionism, Mead Art Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts, 1982.
- John Singer Sargent Drawings, Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1983.
- Charteris, Evan. John Sargent. New York: Scribner's, 1927, p. 289, as Valdemosa, Majorca (Thistles and Herbage on Hillside).
- Mount, Charles Merrill. John Singer Sargent: A Biography. Rev. ed. New York, 1969: 473, as Roots, Valdemosa (originally published 1955).
- Ormond, Richard, and Elaine Kilmurray. John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes, 1908-1913. The Complete Paintings, Volume VIII. New Haven and London, 2014: no. 1487, repro.
- Torchia, Robert Wilson, with Deborah Chotner and Ellen G. Miles. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1998: 122-125, color repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 339, no. 273, color repro.
- Martindale, Meredith. John Singer Sargent a Mallorca. Mallorca, 2009: 47, 122, color repro. 37.