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July 22, 2022

John Singer Sargent's Fascination with Spain Explored in Landmark Exhibition at National Gallery of Art

John Singer Sargent, "Spanish Roma Dwelling", 1912

John Singer Sargent
Spanish Roma Dwelling, 1912
oil on canvas
framed: 91.44 x 111.76 x 11.43 cm (36 x 44 x 4 1/2 in.)
image: 71.44 x 91.44 cm (28 1/8 x 36 in.)
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, Gift of anonymous donor, 1931.13
Bridgeman Images

Washington, DC—John Singer Sargent's (1856–1925) decades-long captivation with Spain yielded a remarkable body of work depicting the rich and diverse culture he encountered. Sargent and Spain is the first exhibition to reveal the depth of this engagement and the intentional approach the artist adopted there. Presenting some 140 oils, watercolors, drawings, and never-before published photographs, several almost certainly taken by the artist himself, the exhibition is on view from October 2, 2022, through January 2, 2023, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.

Sargent left a rich visual record of his time in Spain—over 225 oils, watercolors, and drawings, supplemented by sketchbooks, scrapbooks, and nearly 200 photographs that he collected or possibly took himself. Over seven extended visits between 1879 and 1912, he depicted stunning landscape views, detailed architectural studies, local peoples and traditions, dynamic scenes of flamenco dance, and everyday moments of Spanish Roma life. He copied paintings, especially by Diego Velázquez (1599–1660), in museums and was intrigued by art in churches, which influenced his expansive murals for the Boston Public Library.

"Sargent and Spain examines, for the first time, how Sargent engaged with that country, in all its diversity, and depicted it in paintings, drawings, and photographs," said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art. "We are deeply grateful to Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, leading authorities on the artist and authors of the John Singer Sargent catalogue raisonné, who worked closely with Sarah Cash, associate curator of American and British paintings, on this presentation. I would like to extend our thanks to our lenders for their willingness to share their treasured works of art as well as to the Buffy and William Cafritz Family Fund, the Virginia Cretella Mars Endowment Fund for the International Exchange of Art, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the Director's Circle of the National Gallery of Art for providing additional support that allowed us to present this exhibition. We are also grateful to the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities for their continued dedication to the National Gallery's exhibitions and programs. I would also like to thank Bank of America for their sponsorship and long-standing support."

"Sargent’s influence on American painting is substantial,” said Larry Di Rita, Bank of America President, Greater Washington DC. “Bank of America is excited to support the exhibition of this vibrant collection of Sargent’s works."

Exhibition Organization

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Bank of America is the national tour sponsor for Sargent and Spain.

This exhibition is also made possible by leadership support of the Buffy and William Cafritz Family Fund.

Additional major support is provided through the generosity of the Virginia Cretella Mars Endowment Fund for the International Exchange of Art, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the Director's Circle of the National Gallery of Art.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Exhibition Curators

The exhibition is curated by Sarah Cash, associate curator of American and British paintings at the National Gallery of Art, with Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, leading authorities on the artist and authors of the John Singer Sargent catalogue raisonné.

Exhibition Tour

National Gallery of Art, Washington, October 2, 2022–January 2, 2023
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor, February 11–May 14, 2023

About the Exhibition

Arranged in six thematic sections, Sargent and Spain traces the artist's many and varied approaches to depicting Spain. The first section examines the young Sargent's immersion in Spanish art—especially by Velázquez—at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, where he learned to interpret the placement of the figure in shallow space, the simplicity of the silhouette against the neutral background, and the restrained palette. In addition to paintings and prints by Velázquez and other earlier artists, Sargent was drawn to works by several Spanish contemporaries who also influenced his artistic style, particularly works by Joaquín Sorolla and the slightly older Mariano Fortuny Marsal.

The second section reveals Sargent's interest in depicting the performing arts he enjoyed in Spain. From 1879 to 1881 and again around 1890, this artist-connoisseur produced an extraordinary series of images of Spanish dancers and musicians, particularly those inspired by the traditions of Andalusia (southern Spain). Among the works on view are the paintings The Spanish Dance (c. 1879–1882) and Spanish Roma Dancer (two versions, both dated c. 1879–1880), the watercolor Spanish Dancer (c. 1880–1881), sketches and drawings related to El Jaleo (1882) and Spanish Dancer (c. 1880–1881), as well as images (1890) of the celebrated performer Carmen Dauset Moreno, known as La Carmencita.

As Sargent traveled throughout Spain, he studied and depicted subjects from north (Santiago de Compostela and Camprodón) to south (Granada), and out to the island of Majorca, which fascinated him. He was captivated by both rural and urban locales, exploring the countryside, coasts, architecture, gardens, and the inhabitants he met. Along the way, over the course of three decades, he created a comprehensive portrayal of the Spanish landscape—its flora and fauna; its people and their animals; its ports and ships. These works capture the country's intrinsic character and spirit of place, as well as the distinctive qualities of its light and atmosphere.

These works are featured in the next three sections of the exhibition, which includes highlights such as architectural elements in royal palaces, notably the Alhambra and Generalife, and their surroundings; the graceful arches, colonnades, and courtyards he found in the cities he visited; as well as the lush fruits and foliage of Majorca (he would soon adapt the latter for the Triumph of Religion murals at the Boston Public Library). His depictions, in both oil and watercolor, focus on the clarity of line; the interrelationship between exterior and interior space, ornament and pattern; and the dramatic and shifting play of light, shade, and watery reflection.

The exhibition concludes with an exploration of the religious imagery that occupied Sargent, especially in relation to his commission to paint the Triumph of Religion murals at the Boston Public Library. His engagement with Spanish Catholicism includes lively oil sketches—recording architectural spaces and designs—as well as objects he collected and represented. Among the works on view are studies of soaring cathedrals, the Crucifixion, and the Madonna that he made in preparation for the mural cycle. The final gallery in the exhibition offers photo murals, a reading area, and an interactive kiosk where visitors can examine one of Sargent's scrapbooks.

In the Library: Photography and Travel in Sargent's Spain

Complementing Sargent and Spain, the National Gallery of Art presents 19th- and early 20th-century archival material drawn entirely from its department of image collections. Selections from its rare archives include photographs by Juan Laurent, Rafael Garzón, Casiano Alguacil Blázquez, and Joseph Lacoste—some of whom are also represented in Sargent and Spain; images of art and monuments from Aranjuez, Ávila, Burgos, Granada, Madrid, and Zaragoza; photographs of people in typical dress, gardens, and a thousand-year-old Majorcan olive tree; and fine collotype postcards. A collodion glass negative of the main gallery of the Prado in 1872, select reproductive prints of art, Manuel Cossío's influential catalog El Greco (1908), and a woodcut from the Illustrated London Times give viewers a sense of the period. Also featured is an early photograph of Sargent's El Jaleo on view in the Spanish Cloister of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, in 1915.

Curated by Thomas O'Callaghan, image specialist for Spanish art, National Gallery of Art, this installation is on view from October 3 through December 30, 2022, in the East Building Study Center, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Exhibition Catalog

Copublished by the National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press, this 256-page illustrated volume reveals Sargent's fascination with Spain and the extraordinary body of work that resulted—stunning landscapes and seascapes, architectural studies, scenes of everyday life, and sympathetic portrayals of the Roma and other local people he encountered. Featuring essays by Cash, Kilmurray, Ormond, Museo del Prado curator Javier Barón, and independent scholars Nancy G. Heller and Chloe Sharpe, this book presents some 130 dazzling watercolors, oil paintings, and drawings recording Sargent's engagement with Spain. Immersing himself in the country's rich culture, he studied Spanish masters old and new, lavishing particular attention on works by Velázquez in the Prado. Sargent rendered the distinctive architecture of the Alhambra as well as other palaces and churches, explored religious imagery, and captured lively scenes of ports and villages. Intrigued by Spanish dance and music, he created dynamic views of flamenco and the renowned Carmencita. The artist's seven trips to Spain are detailed in a map and illustrated chronology by Catherine Southwick, curatorial associate in American and British paintings at the National Gallery of Art. The only known photographs of Sargent working and traveling in Spain were discovered during research for the exhibition and are published here for the first time.

The book is available for purchase in the shops in the West Building and East Building, and at shop.nga.gov (online); (800) 697-9350 (phone); or [email protected] (email).

Related Activities

Lectures and Book Signings
Introduction to the Exhibition: Sargent and Spain
October 2, noon
East Building Auditorium
Registration is required.
Sarah Cash, associate curator of American and British paintings at the National Gallery of Art, in conversation with Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, exhibition cocurators and authors of the John Singer Sargent catalogue raisonné. A signing of the exhibition catalog follows in the East Building Concourse Shop.

Sargent’s El Jaleo: What’s Goya got to do with it?
October 18, 6:30 p.m.
Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain
2801 16th St NW, Washington, DC
Registration is required and opens September 19 at 10:00 a.m.
www.eventbrite.com/e/sargents-el-jaleo-whats-goya-got-to-do-with-it-tickets-385848873367
Janis Tomlinson

Sargent and Spain - A review by Lola Jiménez-Blanco
November 2, 6:30 p.m.
Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain
2801 16th St NW, Washington, DC
Registration is required and opens October 3 at 10:00 a.m.
www.eventbrite.com/e/sargent-and-spain-a-review-by-lola-jimenez-blanco-tickets-390598690197
Lola Jimémez-Blanco

Conversations with Artists: Simon Edmondson and Eva Salmerón (virtual)
December 8, 1:00 p.m.
Registration is required: nga.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_gWkApYfsQSCmHfEMqlvX-Q
Artists Simon Edmondson and Eva Salmerón will present on their creative practice, commonalities with Sargent, and the shared inspiration of Spanish culture. Sarah Cash, exhibition co-curator and associate curator of American and British paintings at the National Gallery of Art, will give an introduction and moderate questions.

Film Programs
Recent Films from Spain
In collaboration with the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain, Spain Art & Culture, and Mujeres de Cine, the National Gallery presents the Washington DC area premiere of eight recent titles by Spanish, predominantly femme, directors. Guest curated by KJ Mohr, this series aims to highlight current practices and approaches to production by Spanish filmmakers interested in fiction, documentary, and the multitude of creative modes in between. Registration is required.

Zurbarán and His Twelve Sons
October 2, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium
With director Arantxa Aguirre, introduced by Ada Vilageliu Díaz

La Ciutat a la Vora preceded by Tobacco Barns Light Studies
October 15, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium
Introduced by Ada Vilageliu Díaz
 
Trance
October 29, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium

Mighty Flash (Destello Bravío)
November 5, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium

Cosmic Chant. Niño de Elche (Canto Cósmico. Niño de Elche)
November 12, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium

They Carry Death (Eles transportan a morte)
November 13, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium
Introduced by Ada Vilageliu Díaz

Horses Die at Dawn (Los caballos mueren al amanecer)
December 3, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium
Introduced by Ada Vilageliu Díaz
 
From Vault to Screen: Carmen Amaya and Flamenco
Two archival film titles celebrate the revolutionary and influential career of Spanish Romani flamenco dancer and singer Carmen Amaya (1913–1963). Born in Barcelona, Catalonia, Amaya's incredible skill and command of flamenco steps usually reserved for male performers was celebrated on stage and screen. Her extraordinary performances in Maria de la O and Los Tarantos echo the spirit of Sargent's painted dancers and bracket Amaya's all-too-short cinematic legacy. With thanks to KJ Mohr, Filmoteca Española, and Filmoteca da Catalunya. Registration is required.

María de la O
December 17, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium
 
Los Tarantos
December 18, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium

Concert
Ignacio Prego, harpsichord
October 30, 3:00 p.m.
West Garden Court
Registration is required.
2022 marks the centennial of the Concurso de Cante Jondo (Cante Jondo Contest), a cultural event that showcases the art and culture of the flamenco world in Andalusia. In honor of the anniversary, Prego’s program of Spanish music includes sonatas by the two most important keyboard composers of the Iberian Baroque, Domenico Scarlatti and Antonio Soler.

Contact Information

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phone: (202) 842-6804
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