Sargent and Spain
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
Celebrated as the society portraitist of his era, John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) influenced a generation of American painters. His captivation with Spain, although lesser known, resulted in a remarkable body of work documenting his immersion in the country’s rich culture: landscapes and marine scenes, pictures of everyday life, and architectural studies, as well as sympathetic portrayals of the locals he found there, including its celebrated dancers. Presenting approximately 120 dazzling oils, watercolors, and drawings, many rarely exhibited, Sargent and Spain reveals—for the first time—the depth of this engagement and the deliberate approach the artist adopted in depicting the rich subject matter he discovered. Also featured from his travels are some 28 never-before published photographs, several almost certainly taken by the artist himself.
The exhibition traces Sargent’s many approaches to portraying images of Spain. The artist began his exploration of the country in Madrid, studying the palette and brushwork of Spanish masters at the Museo del Prado (particularly Diego Velázquez); he then traveled throughout the country—studying, copying, and collecting subjects from Santiago de Compostela to Majorca, Camprodón to Granada, over the course of three decades. His work and experiences in Spain became a font of inspiration, ranging from the royal palaces and gardens of the Alhambra and the Generalife, to port scenes in Majorca and the Roma people in Granada. While his dynamic scenes of Spanish dance and dancers—including the famous La Carmencita—are renowned, his pictures of the everyday world he encountered are unforgettable: locals weaving, tending animals, or stripping maize; soldiers convalescing; children herding pigs or gathering blossoms; sun-drenched ships riding the waves into port. He also drew and painted soaring cathedrals, crucifixions, and figures of the Madonna in preparation for his Triumph of Religion mural cycle at the Boston Public Library.
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.
The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated book featuring essays by Cash, Kilmurray, Ormond, Museo del Prado curator Javier Barón, and independent scholars Nancy G. Heller and Chloe Sharpe. It also offers a detailed chronology of the artist’s Spanish travels by Catherine Southwick, American and British paintings curatorial associate at the National Gallery of Art, and the only known photographs of Sargent working and traveling in Spain, discovered during research for the exhibition.
The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
This exhibition is 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 and by the Henry Luce Foundation.
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