Sargent's Life through his writing, paintings and drawings
IF we attempt to define the artistic influences with which Sargent was in contact in Paris, we are confronted with the difficulty that in a summary it is necessary to make use of labels and employ hard-and-fast designations for tendencies which are in their nature elusive, and do not lend themselves to precise definition. It is a subject which only the expert can approach with confidence. But labels, if they lack the precise assistance offered by a signpost at cross-roads, serve to give a general idea of the nature of the country. They are useful as indications, and we need not press the question too far whether the work of any particular painter comes strictly under the label which is applied to him. This is more particularly the case where French art in the decade 1870-80 is concerned. That was a period of fluidity in artistic tendencies, and, if we take it in conjunction with the immediately succeeding years, a period in which the art critics burnt their fingers with a recklessness that has few parallels. Nor, if we remember the fate of the "refuses" in Paris and of Whistler in London can it be said that the Academicians did much better or even as well. Whatever else may be said of the period, it can certainly be pointed to as a warning against dogmatism in art.
Here, however, it is not a question of criticism or even of explanation, but of recalling the names of the artists then at work and the tendencies for which they stood. One distinctive school, with Theodore Rousseau (1812-67) as its foremost founder, had been at work since 1830 and was now drawing to its close. During the decade 1870-80, Millet (1875), Corot (1875) Diaz (1876), Daubigny (1878) died, the surviving leaders of the Barbizon school, of those "plein-air" painters, who influenced by Constable and Bonington had freed French landscape painting from its formality and its studio adjustments, and brought it into closer contact with the moods of nature and the changing aspects of earth and sky. Windows had been opened, air and light had entered in. Under the influence of these workers, set pieces, staged effects and classic ruins had given place to the notation of landscape seen with a more direct vision. For the first time the quality of impermanence in cloud or sun, stillness or storm, became part of the nature painter's subject. A moment before the scene had been different, a moment later it will have changed again. A new aspect of beauty had been transferred to canvas, together with a new vision and a new craft, and here, since such parallels recur and may be found also in the case of Sargent's art, it is worth pointing out that even such an individual school as the Barbizon painters had characteristics shared by the literature of the day.
And it would be well to remember that the Barbizon school, though not ordinarily associated with the Romantic Movement, did not escape a certain infiltration of the Romantic spirit. As we look at their landscapes we are made aware of an ulterior significance, we become more and more conscious of a spiritual significance afloat in the representation of the scene. A wood- land scene by Diaz or Daubigny is invested with a peculiar melancholy, a fete champetre would do violence to the spirit which haunts it, we feel that birds of no common plumage lodge in its branches, that here it is the horn of Roland rather than the woodman's axe that will be heard in the dells of the forest; again, in a painting by Millet the peasants tilling the fields seem not so much labourers toiling on the land as members of a religious order fulfilling the dictates of a pious foundation; or again, the borders of a lake, the banks of a river by Corot in his later years being visions of a spiritual world unprofaned by man.
Side by side with the Barbizon school there had grown up the school of the "Realists." The leader was Gustave Courbet (1819-77), a rich and vigorous personality, abounding in force and originality, well equipped to impose his views and head a revolution whether in the studio or behind a barricade.
A man of the people, wearing wooden shoes, with the physique of a blacksmith and the profile of an Assyrian, deep and jovial in his laughter and a convinced republican, he was within an ace of being shot as an insurgent in 1848, and in 1871 was sentenced by court-martial to six months' imprisonment for his share in the destruction of the Column Vendome — though his action here was dictated by the desire to save the larger evil of the destruction of the Louvre. To make art a living force, "fit for democracy," and turn it from embellished renderings of classical subjects and the effete pageantry of bygone ages, was his declared purpose. His theme was the world as it is, without the gloss of ce ml ideal; rich, abundant, teeming with significance, to be rendered as a painter sees it, without the intrusion of drama, moral values or shadowy subjective associations. "Met- tez vous en face de la nature, et puis peignez comme vous sen- tirez, parbleu," was his advice to students. His own method of painting was to work on dark red or brown grounds, reserving the light to the last. It was never his scheme to begin with the middle tints and scale up to the high lights and down to the dark shadows, the method which was advocated and practised by Sargent. But it was only after years of toil that Courbet found favour with the critics, and was accepted by the public, though by that time he had formed a coterie of disciples. Of these the most eminent was Manet (1832-83). Edouard Manet was the pupil of Couture, a teacher who was the slave of rule and tradition, and devoted his talents to the production of idealized renderings of classical and historical subjects, the "grand art," in fact, of the time. By 1863 Manet had broken away from Couture and his revolt marked the beginning of a new era in art. For it was in that year that the committee or jury of the Salon rejected with true academic instinct certain pictures considered revolutionary in their tendencies, raising thereby such a storm of protest among the younger artists that the Emperor was begged to intervene. He visited the Palais de l'lndustrie, and the committee proving obdurate he ordered that the rejected canvases should be exhibited in a separate room divided by a partition from the Salon.
REHEARSAL OF PASDELOUP ORCHESTRA AT THE CIRQUE D'HIVER.
Boston Art Museum.
This was the origin of the famous Salon des Refuses. Here were shown works by Fantin Latour, Bracquemond, Jong- kind, Cazin, Chintreuil, Cals, Colin, Harpignies, Legros, Jean Paul Laurens, Camille Pissarro, while Whistler was represented by his Girl in White rejected the previous year by the Royal Academy, and Manet by Le Dejeuner sur VHerbe, The exhibition was derided by the critics. It was parodied at the Varietes as the "Club des Refuses" and known in the Boulevards as the "Exposition des Comiques." Le Dejeuner sur VHerbe (now in the Louvre) set Paris by the ears. It was attacked not only for the novelty of its technique but also, and here the public were able to join in, for its subject: two men in the bourgeois costume of the day picnicking under some trees with a nude woman as one of the party, while a second woman was seen bathing in the background. This was so violent a departure from the idealized assemblages engaged in a court function or illustrating an historical or classical episode, to which the walls of the Salon had grown accustomed, that protests poured in from all sides, and when Manet replied his subject was the same as Giorgione's, he was answered that he had failed to idealize his figures as Giorgione had done, and the distinction was good enough for a public deaf to reason. Had not Gustave Flaubert been prosecuted for the publication of "Madame Bovary" in 1857? The die-hards of the Romantic Movement were still in possession. Manet became one of the most abused men in Paris; hardly a voice was heard in defence of his art; Gerome stigmatized his pictures as eoehonneries, and when LOlympia was exhibited in the Salon of 1865 the clamour burst out again. Zola, who praised Manet's work, was included in the demonstration of hostility. But Manet's faith in him- self remained unbroken, and with Le Bon Bock exhibited in 1873 a change began; nobody spoke again of his pictures as cochonneries.
Meanwhile the critics had found fresh game and were busy with a group of painters with whom Manet was beginning to be associated. The principal figures in this "revolutionary" group included Claude Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Cezanne, Berthe Morisot, Degas, Renoir, and in a less degree Boudin* and Lepine. On April 15, 1874, under the title of "Societe anonyme des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs," they opened an independent exhibition in the Boulevard des Capucines. Claude Monet showed a picture entitled Impression: Lever du Soleil. The word "Impression" was seized on by a writer in the Charivari, and henceforth Impressionism was looked upon as a convenient subject for ridicule. The Impressionists became a target for the critics, their work was described as "anarchist rubbish/' they were scoffed at for their theory and ridiculed for their technique. But jibes do not kill, they continued to exhibit their pictures. The battle was, therefore, raging in the seventies at the time when Sargent entered the studio of Carolus Duran.
In this abbreviated record of the movements in painting during these years, no mention has been made of Ingres, who died in 1867. Mr. MacColl has described his work as "realism within Raphaelism, ,, and as a painter he stands somewhat outside the more obvious classifications. Though he was looked up to as one of the greatest of French artists, his immediate influence was merged and is not easily traced in subsequent movements. He was too remote from the current life of the day. Even Degas, whose aim it was at first to follow the direction given to painting by Ingres, is drawn early in his career to other sources of influence, notably to Manet and the Japanese. But no French artist was more or as much admired by Sargent. Two artists so dissimilar it would be difficult to name. On the one hand, Ingres, with serenity in his delineation of form, and with repose and beauty in his lines, but often nerveless and inept in his colour, and shunning the agitation and movement of light: on the other, Sargent, forcible in his execution, concerned with the play and reflection of light, and on the look-out for the intricate aspect of things; the exponent of an art that is alert, vibrating, and vital with colour and the spirit of life. But when the contrast
* Of Boudin, Claude Monet has said: " Je peux dire que Boudin a ete mon Initiateur,
qu'il m'a revele a moi-meme et ouvert la bonne voie. Et le premier pas quelle impor- tance !" See " Chez Claude Monet," Marc Elder, Bernheim-Jeune, 1924. is exhausted, there remain the draughtsmanship, the genius for composition and the fluent strength and elegance of line of the French master. It was these that Sargent was never tired of extolling. When in 19 14 he visited Paris with Professor Tonks to see the exhibition of the collected work of Ingres, he pointed to Jupiter Enthro?jed as the picture in which the highest gifts of the artist were most completely combined.
From this brief survey it may be gathered that in Paris in 1874 there were at least three schools of painting: the Independents, who included Impressionists or Luminists, towards whom the Realists were inclining; the Academicians; and lastly those who, like Carolus Duran, were dominated by the influence of Velasquez. The three schools, if schools they can be called, were divided by partitions of no great strength. That between the school of Duran and the Academicians permitted of considerable intercommunication; that between the school of Duran and the Independents was, it is true, more solid, but at the same time not so high as to make it impossible to look over at what was being done on the other side. Reflections from the Luminists diffused themselves across the barrier, but as the art of Sargent shows, they were allowed only a limited scope in their operation and kept in strict subjection. From letters he wrote it will be possible to gather his own view with regard to this very point.
THE echoes of Sargent's first years in Paris come to us faintly and the lights are fitful. At eighteen years of age he is still slight in build, a little shy and awkward in manner, reserved (as he remained throughout his life) in conversation, but charming, fresh, unsophisticated and even idealistic in his outlook on the world, engagingly modest and diffident, speaking perfect French, hardly aware yet of his gifts, and bound by a romantic devotion to his sister Emily and his parents. All testimony agrees. And so he crosses the threshold of his career. From the first he was a worker of astonishing capacity. He would breakfast every morning with his sister Emily at seven so as to arrive at the studio before eight, and on Mondays in order to secure a good place for the week he would start earlier. At five o'clock in the evening he would leave the studio and go to the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he remained till seven. Dinner over, he would go to the studio of Bonn at and attend a class which lasted from eight to ten at night. On Sundays he worked at home, dining with his family and bringing fellow-students into the radius of that encouraging milieu. Among these were Caroll Beckwith, Frank Fowler, Russell, Edelfeldt the Finnish painter and Alden Weir. With all this he found time for music and for reading.
He was rarely to be seen except in the Latin Quarter. He was immersed in his work. Paul Helleu, then a fellow- student, remembers him as always dressed with distinctive care in a world which still affected the baggy corduroy trousers tight at the ankle, the slouch hats or tarn o'shanters, and the coloured sashes associated with the Latin Quarter. He was a striking figure as he strode down the Rue Bonaparte to the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and already a little noted and recognized as one of the very few whose future could be looked on as definitely assured. The Latin Quarter at this time was the Latin Quarter of Murger's "Vie de Boheme" and Du Maimer's "Trilby." In the intervals of study it invited and even expected a somewhat excessive devotion to the lighter sides of Paris life. It was, in fact, the Latin Quarter of popular report. Sargent, according to all accounts, remained apart; not from any settled austerity of mind, but because he was absorbed in his work to a point of fanaticism. Never in the memory of the Latin Quarter had a harder worker been seen. He was too human to ignore and too ironic to condemn 'Texistence debraillee des rapins," but it formed no part of his own career. He simply had not the time to spare; when he had, he could enjoy it. In March, 1875, ne writes to Ben Castillo after a visit to Nice with Carolus Duran:
52, Rue Abbatrice,
My dear Ben,
A cold perspiration bursts out all over me when I recollect that more than a month has elapsed since I received your kind letter; but I can give several reasons for not answering it sooner; fits of slight illness, hard work and the Concours, now nearly ended.
We have had a few days of delightful sunny spring weather, which make my companions and me wild to go out into the country and sketch. On the night of Mi-Careme we cleared the studio of easels and canvasses, illuminated it with Venetian or coloured paper lanterns, hired a piano and had what is called " the devil of a spree." Dancing, toasts and songs lasted till 4, in short they say it was a very good example of a Quartier Latin ball. The whole quarter was out all night in the wildest festivity, quite surpassing anything I have ever seen in the Italian carnival. I enjoyed our spree enormously, I hope not too much; probably because it was such a new thing for me.
I am anxious to hear news of you and to hear how you like Cambridge and the University life.
We saw so much of other people in Nice that no time was left us for long talks together. Theodore senior is off to Algiers. My two friends left Nice unwell, and Carolus Duran took one of their vacant beds in my room. I came up to Paris with him three days later. I enjoyed Nice immensely. Now good-bye dear Ben. I hope to see you here in the spring. v
John S. Sargent.
In the summer of 1875, the family gave up 52, Rue Abba trice and moved to St. Enogat, near Dinard. Sargent remained in Paris and joined Caroll Beckwith, sharing a studio with him at 73b, Rue Notre Dame des Champs. In June he joined his parents at St. Enogat. The coast attracted him, and two years later he returned to the neighbourhood and painted one of his earliest Salon pictures, En Route pour la Peche. He was charmed by the house his parents had taken and wrote to Ben Castillo:
St. Enogat Dinard,
Ile et Vilaine,
I am really ashamed at having left your letter so long unanswered; as long as we were in Paris it was very difficult to find the time, but since our arrival here I confess there was leisure enough as the weather has been unfavourable for sketching. I wish you believed in the maxim "Whatever is, is right !" If I did I would thrust it at you.
How glad you must be to be with your Mother again after all your hard work. I congratulate you sincerely for passing your examinations successfully. Mr. del Castillo said that you would pay a visit to Lue again this summer but I fear it is too great a distance for us to hope to see you here.
We enjoy our little country house very much with its pleasant gardens and thoroughly rural entourage. I have reason to be contented and thankful for my quarters are charming. My bedroom is the most beautiful interior I have ever seen in anything short of a palace or a castle. It is furnished throughout in the mediaeval style. Its beamed ceiling and floor are of oak, its walls completely hung with stamped leathers and arras; the furniture is all antique and richly carved, especially the grand bedstead with canopy and bed posts, the immense wardrobe, and ebony cabinet. Then there is a great tapestried chimney piece, plenty of oil portraits, a few small choice casts such as a head of Goethe and a beautiful reduction of the Moses of Michel Angelo. This enumeration ends with the most charming detail of all; the windows. They are of lattice, that is to say, of small lozenges of glass, joined together by bands of lead, and from them you look right over and into the fig tree with its great shining green leaves and ripening fruit, then over the pear trees and cherry trees and flowers of the garden, to the wide cornfields, and over them to the sea.
There is much to paint, but it has poured ever since we have been here, so I have accomplished little as yet. Once more congratulating you on your brilliant success.
Your very affectionate old friend,
John S. Sargent.
The spontaneity of his work at this time is striking. There is no sign of effort; it is perhaps immature, but the painting is easy as a signature and stamped with an individual character to be developed as time went on, but never to be radically altered. Impulse, execution, vision, indications of method, and immense facility are already there.
There is a notable sketch in oils of about this time.* It is signed, and it bears two dates, 1873 and was signed and dated by Sargent as recently as 1923. If it is 1874 ** was probably painted at Benzeval — the foliage is northern, the scene obviously French. The study is remarkable for its dexterity: an empty table covered with a white cloth stands in the trellised arbour of an estaminet garden; the sunlight makes a pattern through the trellis, and falls sharp and bright on the tablecloth; beyond are shrubs, silvery in the sunshine; and an enclosing wall shuts out the distance. Two glasses filled with red vin du pays stand on a metal tray on a side table and reflect the light. The scene is entirely commonplace; yet though uneventful it has all the quality of an episode. It shows a markedly French influence both in subject and treatment: a featureless bosquet of a lowly inn seen in vivid sunshine, the shadows light in tone, the foliage quivering in the glare, the commonplace suddenly invested with interest by art. In 1875 Sargent painted the portrait of Benjamin P. Kissam in Paris. In May, 1876, he sailed with Mrs. Sargent and Miss Emily Sargent for America. It was his first contact with the United States. There is no hint of the impression he received, yet the situation was in some ways singular. He was an American by parentage, born and educated in the Old World, steeped in the culture of Europe, and now, at the age of twenty for the first time, he was introduced to his native country. The contrast in many ways must have been sharper than it would be to-day. The great American collector had hardly got to work, the piecemeal transfer across the Atlantic of European collections of art had hardly begun. It was only by visiting Europe that a citizen of the United States could obtain any idea of the history of painting; naturally the studios of Paris were crowded with Americans. Painting in America was seeking a definite lead, feeling its way, and waiting for that directing impulse which was to come to it from Paris. An American citizen coming to the United States with an artistic training must have noticed symptoms of its civilization which were profoundly interesting; at the same time he was bound to be aware of activities lacking the graces of the Old World. American citizenship had from early days influenced Sargent's outlook on the world. Now for the first time he was among his countrymen: the occasion struck an answering chord in his disposition. Henceforward, wherever his residence and whatever the conditions of his calling, it was to America that he felt bound, not only by the ties of race, but by fellow-feeling.
* Now in the possession of Sir Philip Sassoon.
IF a choice of all the wonders of the "Arabian Nights" had been offered the Sargent family, assuredly they would have chosen the " Enchanted Horse." Even in America, where it might have been expected that anchorages would be found, they continued to move, ignoring distances and never omitting to see anything that had the least claim to interest. Altogether they were four months in America, and in that period they managed to see Philadelphia, which included several short visits at country houses belonging to relatives, Newport, Chicago, Saratoga, Niagara, Lake George, Quebec and Montreal, ending up with Washington and New York. It was the year of the Exhibition at Philadelphia, which coinciding with the speeding up of large fortunes did a great deal to start the fashion of collecting famous works of art. Sargent was entirely taken up with the examples of Japanese and Chinese art. It was just the moment when in Europe, and more especially in France, Oriental painting was influencing the modern school of artists. The Paris Exhibition of 1867 had given an impetus to the enthusiasm for Japanese technique. Everywhere collectors were hunting for the works of Hokusai, Outamaro and Harunobu. In the studios, Japanese artists were taken as models of reticence and economy in the statement of a fact, and as creating spatial atmosphere by means of a few lines. By the time Sargent was at work in Duran's studio the impulse from Japan had already passed into French painting, and its message had been extracted and absorbed. At the Philadelphia Exhibition he had before his eyes a further proof of what might be learnt from the East.
During his visit to America he seems to have done little painting. A watercolour Below Niagara, a sketch of Admiral Case's daughter and a portrait of his father's sister, Mrs. Emily Sargent Pleasants, a reproduction of which is given opposite p. 44 are among the few works which can with any certainty be attributed to this period. On the journey back across the Atlantic, during a storm in which their vessel the Algeria was caught, he did a study of waves. This is one of the few occasions on which he took the sea as a subject for a picture, often though he painted water in fountains or lakes or canals. Yet with the exception of Turner it would be difficult to name any painter who has rendered so convincingly the restlessness and weight and iridescence of moving waters or made them such a prominent feature in their work. In his study of the Atlantic, the force and volume of the waves, the desolate iteration of crest and trough, and the dark anger of the storm are dramatically contrasted with the thin white track made on the waste of waters by the vessel and the frail platform from which the sketch is taken. The eye is carried over the welter of waves to the horizon. It is a picture with distance, a thing comparatively rare in Sargent's landscapes. The beauty he sought lay in the relation of light to clearly discerned objects, to things near by and of ascertainable texture and form. It is exceptional to find in his pictures that lyrical quality which from Turner to Wilson Steer has been associated with distance in landscape. Dramatic oppositions in light and colour are to be seen in their strength at a short range of vision, and it is such oppositions that appealed to Sargent. If horizon lines had in them a note of monotony and panoramas an element of vagueness, there was the further consideration that the vague- ness of distant panoramas involves subdued tones, and that fact may have made him reluctant to treat such subjects. Training and temperament may have disposed him to a preference for what was strong in tone. By temperament he was buoyant, active and alert, dreaming no dreams, little given to contemplative moods, and when once his genius had matured he inclined definitely to what was clear and affirmative, pronounced and explicit. That mood of pensiveness which is suggested by far- flung horizons, distant hills and remoteness in space was foreign to his nature.
Commending some amateur work in which he had found more merit than he expected, he once said: "He does what is in front of him, he doesn't shirk the difficulties and like most amateurs go wandering into distances." * It would not be true to say that Sargent never "wandered into distances," but certainly his preferences lay in other directions.
But the reasons which we may find to explain any special characteristic in Sargent's landscapes are of little moment; the important fact is that he has left behind him a series of water- colours that for volume, variety and beauty is not easily matched.
In October, 1876, the family were back in Paris. That autumn Sargent painted Gitana and Rehearsal at Cirque d'Hiver. The following year he sent his first picture to the Salon, a portrait of Miss Watts. It was well received by the critics. Henry Houssaye described it in La Revue des Deux Monde s as "Un charmant portrait de jeune miss par M. Sargent, d'une claire harmonie, et duquel on ne peut reprocher que des mains fuselees."
He was very little in Paris during the summer of 1877. He was for two months at Cancale with Eugene La Chaise, then after picking up Caroll Beckwith in Paris they all three stayed at the Sorchans' country house near Lyons. In August Sargent joined his family at Bex, in Switzerland. Wherever he was, he painted; his output was continuous.
His painting is acquiring distinctive character. It diverges from the work of Duran and Bonnat, and carries that work into a different order of vision and execution. Form is involved with light, facts are curtailed, structure and action are indicated rather than stated, the atmosphere is clear and the shadows luminous, even the darkest passages carrying reflection. To borrow the terms of literature, the effect is produced without rhetoric, without one inessential adjective; the language is nervous and exact, with the rhythm and cadence of the finest prose. His work is allied definitely and from the first to the Realists, but his realism is lifted and illuminated by the mystery and variety of shadow and light. In the early landscapes a silvery and delicate quality is noticeable, which later was to give place to more robust colouring in his rendering of scenery — a change which accompanied his gradual reversion to a preference for Southern landscape with that emphasis and exultant assertion of light characteristic of the South.
* The amateur was Mr. Winston Churchill.
An Atlantic Storm
In 1878 there was exhibited at the Salon a ceiling painted for the Louvre* by Carolus Duran which contained a head of Sargent by Duran and a head of Duran by Sargent. Duran approved so highly of Sargent's share in the work that he consented to sit for the portrait which was hung in the Salon of 1879.
It had an immediate success and it was widely reproduced, even figuring on the cover of U Illustration. But the process of being outrun by the disciple is never agreeable to the master. The legend goes that Duran felt acutely his pupil's progress, that he, later on, invaded the Louvre with ladder and palette and removed Sargent's head from the ceiling. The legend may be dismissed. The head still occupies its place in the design, but the jealousy with which Duran watched his pupil's triumphs is notorious. The contrast with his own bitter struggles was in itself a source of provocation.
Sargent's handiwork appears in another French picture painted in the year 1880. Georges Becker (1 846-1909), the French painter, was commissioned by M. de Freycinet's Government to paint a picture of the review at Longchamps, held on July 14. Becker invited Sargent to assist him, and the two painters worked together in a tent on the field of the review, with sentries to restrain the curiosity of a prying crowd. This picture I have been unable to trace.
Sargent's fellow-students at this time included Walter Gay, Templeman Coolidge, Ralph Curtis, Charles Forbes, Robert Hinckley, Stephen H. Parker, Elliot Gregory, Chadwick and Harper Pennington, all American by birth. Mr. Albert Bellerochef was also a student at the time. Among his French colleagues were Lobre and the portrait painter Helleu, his lifelong friend.
* Now to be seen in Room XIX.
f Mr. Belleroche wrote an account of Sargent's lithographs in The Print Collectors' Quarterly, February, 1926. Only six lithographs by Sargent are known to exist. Proofs of these are in the British Museum: (1) "Study of a Young Man" (seated), (2) "Study of a Young Man" (drawing), (3) "William Rothenstein," (4) "Albert Belleroche," (5) "Albert Belleroche" (head only), (6) "Head of a Young Woman."
MRS. EMILY SARGENT PLEASANTS.
When the two first met Sargent was twenty-two and Helleu eighteen. He astonished Helleu with his knowledge of French literature and his command of the French language; his conversation, in fact, was indistinguishable from that of a cultured Frenchman. Helleu at the time was a struggling student, and often unable to pay for a meal. Sargent seems to have suspected this to be the case. One day he climbed up to Helleu's small studio in the Rue de la Grande Chaumiere, at a moment when Helleu was in the depths of despair about his work and his prospects. The pastel which he had just finished had set the final seal to his discouragement, and it was resting on the floor when Sargent, the successful young painter, opened the door. There was at once a new atmosphere. There was a magnetic quality of encouragement in his mere presence. "That is a nice thing," he said in a thoughtful way, pointing to the pastel, "Charming, charming. The best thing you've ever done, mon petit Helleu." Helleu protested: "Oh, no, I was just thinking what a horror; I'd just torn it off the easel when you came in."
"Because you’ve been looking at it too long, you’ve lost your eye. No one ever paints what they want to paint, but to me who can only see what you’ve done, not what you're aiming at, this is a charming thing I must have for my collection."
Helleu was enchanted — he would be proud if Sargent would accept it.
" I shall accept gladly, Helleu, but not as a gift. I sell my own pictures, and know what they cost me by the time they're out of hand. I should never enjoy this pastel if I hadn't paid you a fair and honest price for it." Thereupon he drew out a note for one thousand francs. Helleu, who had never even seen a thousand- franc note, felt as if the heavens had opened. Thousand-franc notes were not so often handled in those days. Later it dawned on him that the note must have been brought for the special purpose. It was the turning-point in his career. Sargent had set him on his feet. Helleu says he constantly helped his less fortunate competitors. He was equally generous with money, though it expressed itself in action shyly and by stealth, with encouragement and advice, or in improving the work of others with his own pencil or brush. His success stirred no envy, fortune seemed to have chosen him for her own, his days were cloudless, and his friends numerous and faithful.
At this time Helleu was conspicuous among his friends. The two were often seen breakfasting together at the restaurant Livenne, sharing a table with Rodin and Paul Bourget — Rodin, a raw vigorous youth of no general culture, uttering occasionally winged reflections on art; Bourget lively, eager, ranging over and illuminating every topic, his speech shimmering with grace and wit and directing his conversation chiefly to Sargent; Sargent himself, vigorous, robust, full of humour and of theories minted in the practice of his art, his ideas quickened by culture and success, warmed the company with his laughter, which was sometimes ironic and sometimes sprang from the depths of his nature. Sargent was a good eater and lived on a generous scale; but he could accept rough and scanty fare and discomfort when in pursuit of his calling, and for days on end he lived in a shed among the Carrara Mountains, travelling to his work in a basket slung on ropes across a wide ravine, and subsisting on the food of the workers. Cold, heat, mosquitoes, inadequate rations affected him no more than they would the hardiest big-game hunter in Africa, or the most thick-skinned salmon-fisher in Norway. Painting was more than an art to Sargent, it held the exhilaration of a sport as well; his quarry was a suitable subject, his trophy the creation of a thing of beauty.