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collections > permanent collections > drawings >JOHN SINGER SARGENT
John Singer Sargent
(American, b. Italy, 1856-1925)
Portrait of M. Emile Verhaeren, 1915
Charcoal on paper, 23 1/2” x 18 1/2”
Gift of the Frank and Margaret Sullivan Fund (74.006)

The most celebrated portraitist of his day, John Singer Sargent is best remembered for his spectacular full-length representations of Gilded-Age society figures.  A sense of panache characterizes Sargent’s work, as can be seen in the free handling of charcoal in the Museum’s Portrait of M. Emile Verhaeren.  Combining sure, seemingly spontaneous strokes with careful shading, Sargent renders an image that possesses both energy and compelling veracity.   Reflecting Sargent’s gift for expressing his subjects’ personality, the sitter’s intent gaze, windswept hair, and exuberantly bushy mustache suggest a fellow artist, or perhaps a philosopher.  Emile Verhaeren was in fact a noted Belgian poet.

Sargent was born to expatriate American parents in Florence, Italy.  Growing up in the culturally rich cities of Europe, the artist had firsthand experience of the museums and galleries of the Old World.  Determined to be a professional painter, he studied in Florence and Paris, where he submitted his first painting to the annual Salon in 1877.  His early paintings, mainly portraits and figure studies, were met with approval, and by 1883, Sargent had opened his first studio.  A few years later, the artist moved to England, where he became one of the most fashionable painters of wealth and nobility.  Professional trips to the United States yielded further commissions, the most extensive of which was a mural project for the new Boston Public Library.  This assignment occupied much of the artist’s later career, and after the turn of the twentieth century, his portrait commissions gradually fell off.  Sargent developed an increasing interest in watercolor landscapes, and he traveled frequently in Europe painting for his own pleasure.  His final portraits were mainly charcoal renderings like the Museum’s study, which is dated 1915, some ten years before Sargent’s death.