Sargent's Life through his writing, paintings and drawings
Introduction by ArtGraphica
Written just two years after John Singer Sargent's death, this book follows Sargent's life through the correspondences he kept with friends. In this manner it provides a more intimate insight into the life of the American artist, starting with his zoological sketches aged nine, and following his commitment of becoming an artist from the age of 13 until his death, aged 69.
In 1874 Sargent entered the studio of Carolus Duran, who was then the foremost portrait painter in Paris. Duran (of Spanish descent) insisted on the study of Velasquez, and from this Sargent learnt how to simplify, beginning with the middle-tone, working up to the darks before lastly dealing with the brightest lights and darkest shadows and accents. Sargent once stated : "If you work on a head for a week without indicating the features you will have learnt something about the modelling of the head." Whilst his work may appear 'simple', and spontaneous, John Sargent was known to repaint heads up to a dozen times if he was not happy, such was his quest for perfection.
Sargent excelled in French, and got into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts upon his first application in 1874. In his lifetime he would get to meet Degas, Rodin, Monet and Whistler (Some of his letters to Monet, whom he greatly admired, and wrote a number of eulogies too, are included later). On the subject of Monet and impressionism, Sargent tries to summarise the expression as "The observation of the colour and value of the image on our retina of those objects or parts of objects of which we are prevented by an excess or deficiency of light from seeing the surface or local colour."
In person John Sargent had a larger than life personality. There is one anecdote that tells of his time in England: He was riding a horse through a field of winter wheat, in order to reach a bridle path. The owner of the field saw him in and launched a torrent of abuse. Sargent dismounted from his horse and apologised profusely but to no effect, so he quietly moved on and went home. The incident bothered him a great deal, to the point that he went for boxing lessons and returned to the farmer's house, banging on his door and telling him to come outside and defend himself as he was in for a good thrashing! It was reported that Sargent followed through with his promise, and the farmer reported the incident to the police. Ultimately Sargent had to cough up 50 British pounds in compensation, but was later invited for dinner by the farmer, although Sargent did make his excuses and declined!
THE career of John Sargent, perhaps the greatest painter of his time, and surely one of the greatest portrayers and interpreters of it in his famous portraits of its most eminent and most representative figures, is here chronicled in successive stages.
The figure of the hero stands out in high relief from the narrative which his personality pervades. A wealth of anecdote and of letters enriches the record of work, travel, and triumph, from student days under Carolus-Duran to the time when the presidency of the Royal Academy could have been his ; and in all this opulent detail the character of the man overshadows even the distinction of the artist as the true theme of the book.
IN MEMORY OF HER BROTHER
IN the two years which have elapsed since the death of Sargent, his reputation has passed through and survived a critical period. It has endured the searching test of the Memorial Exhibition at Burlington House, when many of his least successful works were submitted to scrutiny. It has with-stood in popular esteem the reaction which there was every reason to expect would follow the sensational sale of his drawings and studies at Christies. His popularity has, in fact, suffered no perceptible diminution to the present day. From this it might be augured that his fame, great as it is, will be maintained in the future. It is not the purpose of the present volume to affirm or question such an assumption. Time, assisted by those qualified for the task, can alone determine the place which he is entitled to occupy in the history of art. The present record of his life and work will, however, it is hoped, help to explain why he painted as he did, and show the influences to which his art was subject.
In the course of the text will be seen the names of the many people who have kindly supplied letters and information, and to whom my grateful thanks are due. Miss Sargent authorised me to make use of the documents found in Tite Street after her
Mr. J. B. Manson, with the help of the list of paintings prepared by Mr. Thomas Fox in America, has compiled the catalogue of Sargent's works in oil, and this, it is believed, is now approximately complete.
I am also indebted to the National Gallery, Millbank, to Mr. Carter, Director of the Fenway Court Museum, Boston, to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and to the Boston Art Museum, for leave to reproduce pictures in those galleries; and to Mr. Charles Carstairs of Messrs. Knoedler and Mr. Croal Thomson of Barbizon House for giving me access to the collections in their possession of photographs of Sargent pictures.
Mr. Charles Whibley has been good enough to read through the proofs.
JOHN SINGER SARGENT was born at the Casa Arretini in Florence, on January 12, 1856. The house stands on the Lung* Arno, within a stone's-throw of the Ponte Vecchio. Facing its windows, and on the other side of the river, there rises out of the waters of the Arno a row of houses whose walls here and there, tinted by age to the colour of amber, carry the tones of the river up to the russet roofs with which they are crowned. Above these, again, can be seen Bellosguardo, Monte Alle Croce, and away to the east the outpost foothills of the Apennines.
The father of John Sargent was Fitz William Sargent, who was born at Gloucester, Massachusetts, January 17, 1820. Fitz- William Sargent graduated in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1843. From 1844 to 1854 he was surgeon of Wills Hospital, Philadelphia. Eminent in his profession, he published works on minor surgery, in their day textbooks in the medical schools of America, which he illustrated himself. He was, above all things, American. In his frequent writings on political topics, patriotism was the guiding influence; nor was this affected by his migration to Europe. On June 27, 1850, he married Mary Newbold, the only child of John Singer, of Philadelphia, and Mary, daughter of William and Mary Newbold, also of Philadelphia. Lineage and early indications of promise acquire significance when they culminate in a master talent.
The genealogy of John Sargent calls for more than a passing reference.
On the paternal side John Sargent's descent can be traced back to William Sargent, who was born in England, and appears in the town records of Gloucester, U. S., as the grantee of two acres of land in 1678. Nothing is known of his career. It can only be presumed that he was a manner, as in 1693 he was taxed as owner of a sloop. It is known, however, that he married in Gloucester, on June 21, 1678, Mary, daughter of Peter Duncan and Mary Epes of Gloucester. The English ancestry of Mary Duncan has been traced with certainty. Her family originally came from Devonshire. There is a Peter Duncan who was instituted to the rectory of Lidford, Devon, in 1580. His son, Nathaniel Duncan, married in 161 6 at the Parish Church of St. Mary Arches, Exeter, Elizabeth, daughter of Ignatius Jourdain. In 1630 Nathaniel Duncan, his wife and two sons, sailed for America. It is therefore to a Puritan stock that John Sargent traces his origin, to a family which, when the call came "for the church to fly to the wilderness, ,, joined those devout and ardent spirits, who, with John Winthrop at their head, migrated to the colony of Massachusetts in order to practise with greater freedom the austerities of their religion.
The descendants of William Sargent and Mary Duncan, through their third son, Epes Sargent (born 1690), have shown themselves honourable and efficient citizens of the United States, never reaching to any outstanding eminence, but maintaining a certain ordered and reputable level of intellectual activity, and following their professions with success. They have figured in law and commerce, in medicine and literature, as artists, as soldiers in the War of Independence, and as captains in the Merchant Service. Included among these descendants of Epes Sargent, in addition to John Singer Sargent, the subject of this memoir, may be mentioned that prolific writer, Epes Sargent (1813-80), remembered as the author of "Life on the Ocean Wave," and Charles Sprague Sargent, born 1841, the distinguished authority on forestry and horticulture, who was drawn by John Sargent in 191 9. All these descendants of Epes Sargent show a fine regard for obligations in private life and public service, and for duty as part of the very order and nature of existence. Strands of this Puritan thread, varying with environment and occasion, and adapted to new strains, enter into the web and woof of the family history.
On the side of his mother, Mary Newbold, his ancestry can be traced to Caspar Singer, of the Moravian belief, who migrated from Alsace-Lorraine to America in 1730. The descendant in the sixth generation of this Caspar Singer, namely John Singer, the grandfather of the artist, married Mary New- bold, daughter of a family which had moved from Yorkshire to America in 1680. John Singer himself was a well-to-do merchant, successor to a prosperous business which he had inherited from his father. Thus the ancestry of John Sargent has been domiciled in America on the paternal side since 1630, and on his mother's side since 1730 -- the one originating in Devonshire, the other in Yorkshire. The mother of John Sargent was a woman of culture and an excellent musician. She also painted in water-colour. She was vivacious and restless in disposition, quickly acquiring ascendancy in any circle in which she was placed. In her family she was a dominating influence. She was one of the first to recognize the genius of her son, and in a large measure responsible for his dedication to art. As a girl she had travelled in Italy. The magic of that country never ceased to exercise its spell, and within four years of her marriage she persuaded her husband to give up his practice, and in 1854 to sail for Europe and take up their residence in Florence. Fitz- William Sargent had, by his practice in Philadelphia, made himself of independent means. His wife, Mary Newbold, was sufficiently well off to render the pursuit of his profession on financial grounds unnecessary.
Europe, in the words of Henry James,* had by this time been "made easy for" Americans. Just as in the seventeenth century the drift of movement had been from East to West, so now, two hundred years later, the tide had turned; and the drift, under conditions and directed by motives in no way comparable, it is true, had set from America to Europe. The new world, animated by the impulse to track culture to its sources and discover for itself the origins of artistic inspiration, had begun that steady pilgrimage which, not always with the same object in view, has continued to the present day. But by the middle of the nineteenth century "the precursors" had accomplished their work not the work of settlers and backwoodsmen, as in the case of their forbears -- but the sorting and registering of the first contacts and preliminary adjustments between a new civilization and an old. The traditions, the institutions and customs of Europe had been reported upon by numberless explorers, and its highly specialized complications had been tested and, if not mastered, at least successfully confronted. Migration to Europe was an established practice. Rome and Florence already bore abundant witness to the process of American infiltration. It was, there- fore, as an already recognized type of pilgrim that the Sargent family arrived in the old world; though it was long before they were to find a last and settled home in Europe. The Continent, with its provocations to restlessness and its various appeals, tempted them for many years to constant movement: Florence, Rome, Nice, Switzerland, the watering-places of Germany, Spain, Paris, Pau, London and again Italy, were in turn visited by the family in their wanderings.
* Henry James: "William Wetmore Story."
It would be of interest if we could estimate the effect of these nomadic habits on the fancy of a child and trace the results in his maturity. It would be an error to deny them some influence. Europe, passing as it were on a film, must have dwarfed the sentiment of early associations, and tended to slacken the hold of locality and even tradition. At any rate, it is possible to find in Sargent's art qualities certainly congruous with such an exceptionally restless childhood.
A letter written in 1863 or 1864 by Fitz William Sargent to his parents throws light on the upbringing of John Sargent, and the influence of Channing, Emerson, and ten years of wandering in Europe on a New Englander's view of the Scottish Cathechism.
The boy (John) is very well; I can't say he is very fond of reading. Although he reads pretty well, he is more fond of play than of books. And herein, I must say, I think he shows good sense. I have just sent him after a book to read for a half-hour, to keep him in trim, so to speak, and after a while I shall trot him out for a walk on the hills. I think his muscles and bones are of more consequence to him, at his age, than his brains; I dare say the latter will take care of themselves. I keep him well supplied with interesting books of natural history, of which he is very fond, containing well-drawn pictures of birds and animals, with a sufficient amount of text to interest him in their habits, etc. He is quite a close observer of animated nature, so much so that, by carefully comparing what he sees with what he reads in his books, he is enabled to distinguish the birds which he sees about where he happens to be. Thus, you see, I am enabled to cultivate his memory and his observing and discriminating faculties without his being bothered with the disagreeable notion that he is actually studying, which idea, to a child, must be a great nuisance. We keep them all (the children) supplied with nice little books of Bible stories, so that they are pretty well posted-up in their theology. I have not taught them the Catechism, as someone told me I should. I can't imagine anything more dull and doleful to a little child, than to be regularly taught the Cathechism. You may teach them who made them; you may give them a correct idea, so far as you can understand it yourself, and make them comprehend it, of God and of our Saviour, and of the sacrifice of Christ for sin and sinners; you may teach them the nature and meaning of Sin, and of our need of a Saviour; of Death and of Everlasting Life, etc. But I am sure it would bore me dreadfully to be obliged to learn the Cathechism, although I hope I know all that it contains pretty well. I remember that Mr. Boardman once asked me, at a Sunday school examination, "What is the chief end of man?" and I told him Death, at which he professed to feel some surprise, and I know my teacher, good Mr. Mclntyre, (the little man who afterwards seceded), supposed I had made an extraordinary mistake. But the fault was not mine, but the stupid wording of the question; if I had been asked, what was the object of God in creating man, I had sense enough to have been able to give a correct reply. And so Emily and Johnny I believe, can give the substance of everything in the Cathechism important for them to know, as yet, or which they can, as yet, to any good degree comprehend, without inspiring them with a dislike to books in general by making them "go through" the Cathechism. I confess (and I hope you will not be hurt) that I am not able myself to give the exact replies to the questions of the Cathechism. To me it is the dreariest of all books.
In 1862 the family was at Nice at the Maison Virello, Rue Grimaldi. In a neighbouring house with an adjoining garden was living Rafael del Castillo, of Spanish descent, whose family had settled in Cuba and subsequently become naturalized Americans. Rafael's son Benjamin was of an age with John Sargent, and from this date the two became close friends. He also made friends in these early days with the sons of Admiral Case, of the American Navy, and with Mr. and Mrs. Paget, and their daughter Violet (Vernon Lee). With these and others John Sargent and his sister Emily (born at Rome in 1857) were constant associates.
Patriotic motives decided FitzWilliam Sargent to send his son into the Navy. The arrival of United States ships of war at Nice gave a chance of testing the boy's taste for the sea. But it was found that he was much more interested in drawing the ships than in acquiring knowledge about them.
The fire within him, burning to record and express, was already at work. Every day was quickening his powers of observation and his precocious aptitude. In a letter written in 1865 to his friend, Ben del Castillo, while the family were vainly seeking a climate that might restore the health of a sister, Mary Winthrop (born at Nice, i860), he shows the alertness of his visual faculty.
Dear Ben, April i6, 1865.
We got to Pau on Wednesday. We stayed at Toulouse a day, and Mamma took Emily and me to the Museum, and we saw the horn of Roland, and the pole and wheels of a Roman chariot, and many pictures and statues. The next day we got to Bordeaux in the after- noon, where Mamma took Emily and me to the Cathedral, where King Richard the 2nd of England was married to an Austrian princess. The windows of the Cathedral were filled with beautiful stained glass; one of the windows was round, and the glass was of a great many colours. The cathedral is very old. Bordeaux is a fine old city. The quai on which our hotel was is very wide, and the river has a great lot of large ships in it and a great many steamers. We left so early the next morning that I had not time to draw any of them; but they would have been too difficult for me, I think. In crossing the Landes from Cette to Toulouse, and between Bordeaux and Pau, we saw many sheep, and the shepherds were sometimes walking on stilts, very high, so that they may see further over the Landes while their sheep are feeding. Near Cette we saw a lot of storks on the shore of the sea which runs up into the country, and there was one very large lake with several towns on its banks. The name of this lake is Etang, and I believe that one of the towns is called Aigues Mortes.
We came from Bordeaux to Pau by rail-way in about five hours. We had very cold rooms in the hotel, and the weather was very bad for a while; it snowed every day for more than a week, and sometimes it snowed very hard, but the snow melted directly. After that, the weather cleared up, and we had some very fine days, so that Minnie could go out in a carriage. We heard the birds sing in the trees, and two or three days we heard a Cuckoo whistle so prettily. We see the mountains covered with snow from our windows; they look so beautiful. Poor little Minnie is getting thinner every day. She does not care for anything any more. Emily and I bought her some beautiful Easter eggs but she would not look at them. She never talks nor smiles now. Good-bye dear Ben; write soon.
John S. Sargent.
From Pau the family moved to Biarritz. From Biarritz he wrote again to Ben del Castillo. Here, again, appears his pre- occupation with the visible world, as if its primary purpose was to supply copy for his sketch-book. The thing actually seen, apart from any fancy that it might set in motion, counts for more than is to be expected in the outlook of a boy of nine.
Day before yesterday we went to San Sebastian where there is a fort on the top of a hill. Near the foot there are a great many English soldiers' graves; I have a little picture of one in my album. I also made a little picture of the Battery, and a good many ships. While I was sitting down drawing one of the tombstones, Mamma and Papa went up to the fort on the top of the hill, leaving Emily and me, because the hill was too steep for Emily to go up. While I was drawing something some of the workmen who were making a new road up to the fort, came and hid Emily and me under a rock, because they were just going to blast a rock halfway up the hill. These English soldiers who are buried on this hill, were killed in an attack made in 1813 by the English army which came from Spain into France to conquer Napoleon. The brother of a lady whom we know in Pau commanded the troops who attacked the fort which was garrisoned by the French. The soldiers were buried just where they were killed.
St. Sebastian is a very clean little town. There are two very large churches there -- one of them is a Cathedral. The houses are very tall and every window has a balcony. We staid two days at a hotel which has a view of the sea. One evening we saw some men packing codfish in baskets to Saragosa, every day they send a great many fish to different parts of Spain. We came to Biarritz at about half past 9, and we left St. Sebastian at almost seven o'clock. Just as we got into the omnibus it began to rain, but when we got to the station it rained very little. Fortunately when we got to Biarritz it did not rain much, so that we got home without getting wet. But when we got to the house the doors were all locked and Madame Lisalde had gone to bed and the nurse was asleep and so we had to knock a long time before we could
Your affectionate friend,
On June 22, still at Biarritz, he wrote again:
I am making a little collection of shells for you, but I do not think I will have many because we will go to Pau very soon. Papa sent me a very nice book on shells from London. There was no storm in the Bay of Biscay since Papa left us. To-day the sea was very rough but we do not feel uneasy about that, for we hope that he has landed safely at Boston, the Captain of the Asia said that they would be there today. Papa sent us a beautiful book with nice stories of domestic animals, such as dogs, horses, donkeys and cats called "Our dumb companions." It is full of nice pictures, and I am copying some of them for Papa. He also sent Emily a nice book about embroidery, and some books to Mamma.
We are going to Pau on Saturday week and will stay only a few days, to get ready to go to the Eaux Bonnes. Mamma has promised to take us to see the Chateau there where Henry Quatre was born. I hope you will write to me soon.
Your affectionate friend,
John S. Sargent.
Later in the summer Mrs. Sargent and her children went to London to await the return of Mr. Sargent from America. In October they were in Paris, and another letter to his friend records the sights and events which had impressed him during his first visit to London.
I am sorry that you did not get the letters that we wrote to you last. We have often thought of writing to you since we knew that you had not received them, but we have been so busy sightseeing that we have not had time. We spent several weeks in London, and the things which interested me most there were the Zoological Gardens the Crystal Palace, the South Kensington Museum. At the Zoological Gardens we saw the Lions fed, and I rode on a camel's neck, and Emily and I rode on an elephant. I made several drawings of the animals there. At the Crystal Palace we saw models of some of the animals which lived upon the earth before man. I copied several of them: the Iguanodon, Labyrinthodon, Pterodactyle, Ickthyosaurus Megalosaurus and Mammoth. The Mammoth was sitting on his hind legs eating the leaves off a tree. At the South Kensington Museum we saw some very fine paintings of Landseer, the celebrated animal painter, and a very fine picture by Rosa Bonheur called the horse fair, but the most curious thing there was an oyster forming a pearl; the oyster was in spirits of wine. On our way to Paris we stopped at Sheerness to see the Great Eastern. We took a little row boat and a couple of sailors rowed us to her, about three miles. We went on board, and saw a great many pieces of the cable, and the first officer gave Mamma a piece of it. Yesterday we went to the hotel de Cluny, and saw very curious things; there were several cases filled with stone tools made before men knew how to work in iron; they were taken out of caves in different parts of France; there were lots of bones of different animals taken out of the same caves. We saw a very curious ship that looked as if it had been made of gold. It was full of men holding ropes in their hands, while others were ready to beat on drums. I believe it was presented to one of the Kings of France by an Emperor of China.
I am Your affectionate friend
John S. Sargent.
P.S. -- Give my love to your Father and Mother.
The letters are slight, but not without significance. There is no irrelevance or comment; he catches the essential trait of what has roused his interest, and records it with few words. It is no ordinary boy of nine who, on dismounting from the elephant at the Zoological Gardens, sets to work to "make several drawings of the animals there.
IN May, 1868, the family was in Spain visiting Madrid, Valencia, Cordoba, Seville and Cadiz. From Cadiz they sailed to Gibraltar and on the journey were caught in a storm. The vessel was in peril; Sargent, however, seems to have been as little disturbed by danger in his boyhood as he was in after years. In Spain the heat was great, the inns abominable. The fortress of Gibraltar impressed the boy more than the scenery and those Spanish galleries which later were to exercise such authority over his taste and art. In the summer they were in Switzerland, and at Murren they met Mr. Joseph Farquharson, when the future Academicians began a friendship which lasted till the death of Sargent. Mr. Farquharson, some years senior to Sargent, impressed by the boy's talent, gave him his first lessons in drawing a head. Murren was only one of many halting places. Mrs. Sargent, with her insatiable love of travel, had succeeded in convincing everyone else concerned that it was more economical to be on the move than to remain stationary. This locomotive disposition, therefore, was not the expression of a family fidgety in habit, but had economy as well as enlightenment for its aim.
The winter of 1868-69 was spent in Rome, on the Trinita dei Monti, and here the momentous decision was made as to Sargent's future. Every day that passed had emphasized his affinity with art. In Rome a German-American landscape painter, Carl Welsch, long since forgotten, took an interest in the boy and noted his aptitude for drawing. He invited him to come and work in his studio, and Sargent used to spend the mornings in copying the water-colours of Welsch.
Those who frequented the society of the Sargents also recognized that the boy possessed a talent of no ordinary quality. The recognition became vocal; it was supported by his mother and reluctantly admitted by his father. The idea of a naval career was first shelved, then irrevocably dismissed. It was agreed that in due course he should study seriously for the career of a painter.
Here there may be noted a superficial resemblance to the career of another distinguished American, James Whistler, who in his youth was destined for the profession of a soldier. Whistler, however, was actually entered as a pupil at the Military Academy of West Point, and it was only after three years that his inability to master the elements of chemistry, his habit of decorating his military exercises with the irrelevant fancies of his pencil, and his incapacity to bring his ideas of discipline into line with those of the authorities, led to his retirement. His breakdown in his viva voce examination in chemistry at least enabled him to say: "If Silicon had been a gas I should have been a Major-General." *
It is idle to speculate what would have occurred had Sargent been forced to pursue his naval career. Swinburne, writing of Jowett, Master of Balliol, expresses the belief that had the Master taken to hunting he would have been a hard rider to hounds. W r e may be equally confident that had Sargent been driven into the Navy, his force of character and sense of duty would have carried him to the top. Meanwhile his education was continued with such changes in his preceptors as were necessary to keep pace with the changes in habitation. Greek, Latin and mathematics, the conventional curriculum, were supplemented by music and foreign languages, in which he quickly began to excel.
In the spring of 1869 the family were as usual on the wing, visiting Naples and Sorrento. A letter from Sorrento gives an idea of their wanderings and what they saw.
I wrote a letter to you some days ago before we left Naples, but it has got mislaid and I cannot find it. We are staying at the Hotel Cocumella which was once a convent and at every door on the bricks there is Riposo, or Pace, or Silenzio. The day after we arrived at Naples, we went to the old town of Pozzuoli and Baiae and on the way- there we went to the crater of the Solfatara a volcano near Pozzuoli. We also saw the caverns of the Cumaean Sybil, on the banks of the Lake Avernus. The Museum of Naples is very fine and more interesting than either the Capitol or Vatican at Rome, because all the bronzes and frescoes from Pompeii and Herculaneum are there.
* E. R. and J. Pennell, "Life of James Whistler,"
We went to Pompeii a few days ago by railway only three quarters of an hour from Naples. It is very interesting, and you see the houses of Glaucus and the heroes of Bulwer's "Last days of Pompeii."
The houses are very well preserved and the walls of the rooms are generally covered with frescoes, but they have taken away the finest frescoes to the Museum of Naples. In the house of Diomed you see the cellar where Julia his daughter and a lot of women were suffocated, and we saw the oven where 8 1 loaves of bread were found, which have been taken to the museum, they are enough cooked by this time. You are not allowed to give anything to the guide who shows you about, and they sell photographs of Pompeii to you instead.
Day before yesterday we sailed for the Island of Capri 14 miles off. We went first to see the Blue Grotto the entrance of which is so small that you get into a little boat and lie down in the bottom of it. But when you are in, it is very large. The light all comes from the water, which is of a light blue and is reflected on the roof. From the Blue Grotto we went to the Villa of Tiberius, which is perched up on a peak about 1360 feet above the sea, and a little lower down is a place called the Salto di Tiberio, where Tiberius used to throw off his victims into the sea. It is 1335 feet high, and if you throw a large stone over it is almost 30 seconds before it falls into the sea. Then we saw the natural arch which is very fine. After you left Rome, Ma gave me a large album of white Roman binding to stick photographs in, and I have stuck in about 60 of Rome and a great many of Naples. I have a good many old Greek and Roman poets, and I am trying to get the first Caesars. I will get some photographs of the Museum at Munich, where there are some very beautiful statues.
We will leave Sorrento on Monday, day after to-morrow, and we will be seven days in getting to Munich. The first night we will spend in Roma, the second at Ancona, third at Padua, the fourth Botzen, Innsbruck, Munich, and from Munich we will go to Carlsbad in Bohemia for waters for Papa.
Madame Darij told me to thank you for her, about your kind message as to the health of her quadrupeds, Diana and Adone, who are alive and kicking. Before we left Rome Mr. Darij gave me 28 coins and some intaglios and he gave Emily also some intaglios, but to Violet he gave two oil pictures, 23 coins and a lot of intaglios, one of which she has had set in a ring.
Mamma and Papa send their love to your father and mother, ana hope they will write soon. Emily sends her love to you and your father and mother, and give mine too, and accept a great deal for yourself.
I remain your affectionate friend,
John S. Sargent.
P.S. -- Address to Poste Restante, Carlsbad, Bohemia.
Sargent, now thirteen years old and specifically pledged to the profession of an artist, was busy in and out of season with his pencil -- observing and noting before getting to work, crouching over his sketch, then lifting his head and holding up the drawing the better to criticize. The drawings were precocious, not in imagination, but as literal records of what was immediately before him. He drew whatever came to hand, never worrying to find special subjects, but just enjoying the sheer fun of translating on to paper the record of what he saw. He seems, as a boy, never to have drawn "out of his head." The usual fancies from history and mythology, which even the gravest artists in boyhood have turned to, do not appear to have engaged his attention. He was much more taken up with things there before his eyes, the shadow of an oleander on a wall, the attitude of a fellow-traveller in a railway carriage, the bronze figures round the tomb of Maximilian at Innsbruck, a country cart, a statue, or a corner of architecture -- any detail, in fact, of the visible world. The winter was spent by the family at Florence, 4, Via Solferino, and here Sargent followed his studies at a day-school kept by a Monsieur Domenge, a political refugee. This winter too he went to dancing classes. He told me that on one occasion the usual pianist was unable to attend, and the class was on the point of being dissolved when it was remembered that someone who played and might be willing to fill the vacancy lived on the floor above. Presently a handsome old lady dressed in black silk came into the room. He noted a certain faded elegance about her as she took her place at the piano. The lady was Jane Clairmont, now seventy-two years of age, the mistress of Byron, the mother of Allegra, who, after wandering over Europe as a governess, had finally settled in Florence, and was living on the proceeds of a legacy left her by Shelley. She died in 1879. For some time before her death there had been living as a lodger in her house in the Via Romana a certain Captain Silsbee, of the American Mercantile Marine. Captain Silsbee was a friend of the Sargents. He was a typical American skipper, dramatized by a buccaneering appearance and by a crop of piratical legends and tales of "moving accidents by flood and field," which, though guaranteed by his appearance, had no other support. One of his stories which gave great delight to Sargent as a boy was that of a fall, when in command of a steamer, into an oil tank, and of his being left so long to struggle in that medium before he was pulled out that his hair positively refused ever to curl again. As far as looks went he seemed the last man in the world one would expect to be interested in Shelley; nevertheless -- perhaps he felt the darker side of his calling required some spiritual antidote -- the fact was that the master passion of his life was Shelley and Shelley relics. Vernon Lee relates that he would "come and sit gloomily in an armchair, looking like some deep-sea monster on a Bernini fountain, staring at the carpet and quoting his favourite author with a trumpet-like twang quite without relevance to the conversation. " A stranger would to his astonishment hear interjected into the discussion "O World, O Life, O Time," or one of the shorter lyrics, from a member of the party who had till then attracted attention only by his appearance and his silence. Silsbee had long known that Jane Clairmont had in her possession certain manuscripts of Shelley; and these he had made every effort to acquire. To strengthen his position he had dug himself in under the very walls of the fortress, and, as we have seen, taken up his residence in the same building as Jane Clairmont, in the Via Romana. It was even said that he never ventured far from the house lest the owner of the manuscripts should die during his absence. When, however, Jane Clairmont did die the Captain was in America. He rushed back at once to Florence to wrest from Jane's companion and niece the papers which he had failed to obtain in the old woman's lifetime. Then arose an unfortunate complication. The niece, mature in years and gifted with few of the graces which appeal to buccaneers, had long nourished a secret flame for the Captain. She declared her passion and proposed a bargain; the manuscripts should be the Captain's, but he must take her in marriage as a term of the deal. The Captain refused to pay the price; he left the Via Romana and the manuscripts and fled from Florence. This story was told to Henry James, and within a few weeks he produced "The Aspern Papers." The hero, it will be remembered, evades the offer in a state of the deepest embarrassment with the words, "It wouldn't do, it wouldn't do." In Sargent's narrative the American skipper showed no embarrassment and merely expressed profound annoyance at losing the manuscripts. In 1900 Sargent did a charcoal drawing of Silsbee, which now hangs in the Bodleian. Silsbee died in 1904. The Sargents, after the usual summer wanderings, passed the winter of 1870 at Florence at 15, Via Magenta. The Anglo- American colony had considerably enlarged. Arthur Lemon the painter, Heath Wilson, the Oakleys, the Eyres and Bronsons and many others were there. The Sargents' house became a centre where the colony often gathered. Two of the Sargent children had died, Mary Newbold in 1853 and Mary Winthrop in 1865. John thus became the eldest child. A fifth child, Violet, who afterwards married Mr. Ormond, had been born in Florence in February, 1870. There were therefore now three children in the family, John, Emily and Violet.
Mrs. Sargent was now at liberty to press on with the artistic education of her son; the decision had been made. He was entered as a student from the life at the Academia delle Belle Arti, where he quickly asserted his superiority and gained the annual prize. During the spring-time, when not engaged in his classes, he would set out with his mother to sketch in the neighbourhood, in the Boboli Gardens, or in the Poderi of Fiesole, or among the valleys and slopes that curl and tumble from the mountains to the plain, or among the olives and cypresses at their feet. The inspiration of his mother, her directing energy and her own deftness in sketching were there to stimulate and abet him. She was prodigal of her sympathy and encouragement. One receives an impression of activity and thoroughness, of an animating spirit bent on enlarging the endowment she had so confidently detected in her son. It was not enough to have relegated the naval career to limbo, she had to justify the change of course for which she had been responsible and reconcile her husband to this dedication of his son to art.
Sargent was at this time tall for his thirteen years, slim of form, warm in colour, his hair dark, a look of alacrity and welcome in his eyes, a gait that was brisk and decided, and spirits that broke lightly into laughter. "A big-eyed, sentimental, charming boy, playing the mandoline very pleasantly." * He was already an indomitable worker, with a disposition mellow with kindliness and goodwill. If he was sometimes imposed on, and if his good nature sometimes seemed to warrant aggression, this could never be carried far. He had a hot temper, a reserve of pugnacity, which was not so deep down that it could not be roused. Two hectoring contemporaries in Florence found their attempts at bullying met with a response which effectually secured immunity henceforward for their intended victim. This militant spirit in Sargent was always capable of being roused under sufficient provocation and was finally to land him in difficulties of a legal kind in England.
* Mrs. Hugh Fraser, "A Diplomatist's Wife in Many Lands,"