Saturday, 4 September 2010


Setting Out to Fish 1878

John Singer Sargent. (1856-1925) is best known for his glamorous society portraits - but his work is far more varied than that. An obsession with water, particularly the sea, was developed which he was still a young man during time spent in Brittany, Normandy, and Nice, and while taking two transatlantic voyages.

Some of his earliest paintings show the influence of Turner, and there is a stunning variety of styles, from the dark tonal sketches of riggings and sails to the impressionistic evocations of the elemental power of the ocean, and also those somewhat prettier paintings of children on holiday beaches.

The fact that the sea was in Sargent's blood - having come from a family of ship-loaders - must surely have had some bearing on the artist's interest in all things marine.

 Wharf Scene

 Sketching on the Gludecca
And in the more intimate painting below, you can almost feel the glaring heat radiating out of the canvas. The child who has pigs' bladders strapped to his back - a Victorian form of water wings - could almost be a small Cupid or Putto such as those found in classical Italian paintings - but with a stark sense of 'modernity'.

Neopolitan Children Bathing

For related posts with wonderful examples of Sargent's work, please see -


  1. Interesting, isn't it, that a glamorous society portrait painter could go down to the docks, to paint working ships and the labouring class. The dark tonal sketches of riggings and sails suggest that he was a thoughtful man, and not just a well-connected social butterfly.

  2. I wonder if the romanticism of the docks and sea was such a magnet that he just HAD to paint them. I could imagine such a thing, as I'm drawn to them as well. Love this post.

  3. The paintings are just beautiful. Lucky you to have been able to see and enjoy them.

  4. Love JSS. Thanks for highlighting him. These are wonderful!

  5. I love these paintings, must confess I'd never heard of John Singer Sargant. You can see the Turner influence and I'll defiantly look out for him. Wharf Scene is my favourite. love to see more. Great post Essie!