Sargent’s enduring popularity has prompted a thoughtful reappraisal by prominent art critic Carter Ratcliff, who shows us the surprising breadth of the artist’s work. Never before has a book so thoroughly represented that variety: 110 lavish color plates and more than 200 halftones convey the brilliance of his portraits, the exuberance of his watercolors, the stately pomp of his murals. It is perhaps the watercolors that are most exciting to contemporary eyes bold, spontaneous, and vividly hued, they have a breathtaking immediacy.
Born in Florence in 1856 to American parents, Sargent spent a nomadic childhood before going to Paris to study painting. He learned quickly and by the 1880s had begun the steady climb to fame that ultimately placed him at the center of his world, with a circle of friends and rivals that included Henry James, Claude Monet, and James McNeill Whistler. When Sargent died in 1925, a childhood companion wrote in her memorial that “the summing up of a would-be biographer must, I think be: He painted.” It is the strikingly beautiful results of that lifelong devotion to his art that glow throughout the pages of this incomparable book.