Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends – National Portrait Gallery

I visited the Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on Friday after work, suddenly realising that it was due to close on the Bank Holiday. I’m very glad I got the chance to see the exhibition, as I love Sargent’s style and his pictures really appeal to me.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was born in Florence to American parents. He showed early promise as an artist and trained with many expatriate artists. He later studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and his career went from strength to strength; he was acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic.

The portraits here are largely of artists and other society figures that Sargent knew personally, meaning that they are more varied and generally more informal than his commissioned works. I loved the glorious colours of the paintings and the interesting figures who form their subjects. One of my favourites was a picture of his friend Ramón Subercaseaux, painted in a Venetian gondola in around 1880. Ramon looks directly at the painting as if he is looking into the eyes of his friend. I also loved the paintings of Robert Louis Stevenson, completed a few years later, showing the author in an almost “accidental” pose. Another image I loved, much more formal and staged, was Sargent’s painting of actress Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth – incredibly impressive.

I could have stayed here for hours; sadly the exhibition has finished but many of Sargent’s works are visible in public galleries, including Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (Tate) and his 1913 portrait of the novelist Henry James (National Portrait Gallery).

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889