n°188/ Straps & Stripes

September 2015

by Nathalie Azoulai

Majorly influenced by Velasquez he copied a great deal to train his brush, utterly following the French impressionists, John Singer Sargent gives of late 19th century impressionism its American version, a bit too colorful-French colloquial language would say too "chromo"- too dressed up, too polished however Whistler would say too "smudgy". In fact, there is a crudeness in his work that you won't neither find  in Manet's nor in Degas's, that might slightly lack delicacy. But the man was daring. In 1884, when Sargent painted one of his most famous portraits showing "Madame X", aka Mme Pierre Gautreau, the painting aroused a harsh rejection because of the plunging neckline, the off-the shoulder dress strap, much too sensual let alone the non commissioning of the portrait. Sargent accepted to change the strap to dampen the furor but the damage was done.  Could it be that French painters and curators stick to impressionism in a patriotic way to keep it French, not willing to take any chance to let it go to America the way modern and contemporary art did? 

 John Singer Sargent