Sargent's Life through his writing, paintings and drawings
ON January 14, 1897, Sargent was elected an Academician by a large majority in a ballot against B. W. Leader. In the July following he deposited temporarily a portrait of Herr Johannes Wolff as his diploma work, signed the roll and received his diploma. In 1900 he replaced the portrait by A Venetian Interior exhibited in the Academy Exhibition of that year. It had been painted for his friend Mrs. Curtis, the owner of the Palazzo Barbaro, where he very often stayed when in Venice. It had failed to meet with her approval; it had offended in two ways; the portrait of herself was said to anticipate advancing years, and her son seated on a table in an attitude of nonchalance was inconsistent with the deportment observed by Mrs. and Mr. Charles P. Curtis. Thus the picture became one of the cornerstones of the Diploma Gallery.
The picture has a quality of charm, indefinable, but to as great a degree, perhaps, as any picture by Sargent. He has made use of the most abbreviated means. By the aid of a few smudges he has indicated the sumptuous Venetian decoration, the carvings round the pictures, the scrolls and cherubs on the walls, the lunettes above the doors; accuracy of eye and in- fallibility of touch could hardly go further, the room bathed in warm light and luminous shadows is filled with the local spirit. Mrs. Curtis, with her embattled dignity, and her husband, with his more venerable reposefulness as he looks at a volume of engravings, are seen in the foreground; further back in the room is the younger generation, Ralph the son and artist, jaunty and debonair, and beside him in a high light the graceful figure of his wife. Further away the remainder of the room in deep shadow tells of another and an older Venice, of another and a more spectacular social life.
In 1898 he began his series of Wertheimer portraits,* and writing to Lady Lewis shortly afterwards he described himself as being in a state of "chronic Wertheimerism." Each picture as it left the studio served to whet afresh the appetite of the great art dealer. Indeed, Mr. Asher Wertheimer's only regret was that there were not more Wertheimers for Sargent to paint. There were no bounds to his admiration for the artist, or limits to his desire for the perpetuation of his family on canvas. The series began appropriately enough with the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Asher Wertheimer which were exhibited in the Academy of 1898. It was the year of their silver wedding, and they were to be presented to the world in a form which would long outlive any anniversaries that they or many generations of their descendants were likely to celebrate. The portrait of Mrs. Asher Wertheimer bears an aspect of great dignity, of a serene and distinguished old age. She looks out of the canvas with a gaze of kindly benevolence, and with not a little of quiet wisdom. Representation may or may not be "irrelevant"; here, by means of it, the artist has been able to move the spectator. Those whose faith in that aspect of art may have been shaken can hardly fail to find their confidence restored as they look on this impressive rendering of a fellow-creature.
As an example of skill in presenting character the portrait of Mr. Wertheimer, who peers rather than gazes at the spectator, is even more remarkable. We are aware of success rather cynically enjoyed, of assessments as acute in the case of humanity as of works of art, of antipathies lived down by sheer astuteness, of triumphant pertinacity and of commercial secrecy. But no one picture of the Wertheimer series surpasses, and it may be doubted if any equals, the portrait of the two sisters Miss Ena (now Mrs. Robert M. Mathias) and Miss Betty (now Mrs. Eustace A. Salaman). They are painted standing side by side. The elder and taller of the two, dressed in white satin, has her arm round the waist of her sister who, slighter and less tall, is in a gown of deep red velvet. The design is compact, balanced and rhythmic. The arms of the younger sister fall by her side, and
* That these pictures now belong to the nation is largely due to the diplomatic persuasion of Lord D'Abernon.
Mrs. Asher Wertheimer
here Sargent has introduced a feature which has contributed not a little to the distinction of the picture. He has painted an open fan of transparent material in the right hand of the model, the spokes turned towards the spectator, and by this means he has prolonged the lines and carried on the tones of the right arm. The open fan has given life and interest to this section of the canvas and, set off against the red dress, has helped to balance the distribution of dark and light in the picture. The lines of the right arm are reminiscent of the portrait of Madame Gauthereau; they have the same fluent vertical fall, while the arm itself is turned in much the same way towards the spectator. The iridescent ivory tints of the white dress, merging into the delicate blues and greys of the Chinese vase, the flesh tones, the background, and the beautifully painted hair of the two girls show a consummate mastery of colour. This picture is one of the completest expressions of Sargent's art. No stroke of the brush is without significance; every accessory contributes to the harmonious unity of the group; there is no dull or unnecessary passage. The result is a picture full of vigour and vitality, constructed and modelled with astonishing solidity, and of great decorative quality. The subject was well suited to his brush. The two girls, in the prime of youth and splendid types of their race, form a seductive contrast: the elder glowing, opulent and triumphant; the younger slighter and less dramatic, sheltered rather than dominated by her sister; the one in full sail, the other, by comparison, gently floating on more quiet seas. Of this picture Mr. Roger Fry wrote: "This is in its way a master- piece. The poses of the figures are full of spontaneity and verve, and the contrast between the leaning figure of the younger girl and the almost exaggerated robustness of her sister is entirely felicitous. And the arrangement once attained, in this case with such conspicuous good fortune, Mr. Sargent has recorded it as no one else could have done."
Mrs. Mathias was again seen on the walls of the Academy in 1905 in the picture known as A Vele Gonfie. Unfortunately this picture, one of the finest of the series, was not included in the bequest to the nation.
While engaged at Fairford on his Boston decorations Sargent had made several attempts to model in clay. Modelling thence- forward was for him a recognized means to attaining his effects in the library decorations. In 1901 he exhibited at the Academy The Crucifix, his most important piece of sculpture. No one who looks at it can doubt Sargent's emotional interest in these decorations.*
Here on a Byzantine cross Sargent has placed the figure of the dying Christ; Adam and Eve are stationed closely to it in a crouching attitude on either side, each holding a chalice under an arm of the Cross to receive the Blood of Christ. At the foot of the Cross is a pelican feeding its young with the blood from its breast, an ancient symbol of the Resurrection. Below the feet of the Saviour is the serpent, signifying evil partially subdued. Above the arms of the Cross are written the words: "Remissa Sunt Peccata Mundi." The Crucifix, the ground- work of which is gold, is so placed in the Sargent Hall that the foot of the Cross forms part of the frieze of the angels. The remainder of the Cross is included in the scheme of the lunette of the Trinity immediately above. The angels of the frieze, two of whom uphold the Cross, carry the instruments of the Passion. Woven on the garments of the two supporting angels are the symbols of the Eucharist, wheat and wine. The angels, eight in number, to symbolize regeneration, are clad in Byzantine draperies, their faces aglow with the beatific vision, and illumined by the sanctity of their office. The frieze, as in the case of that of the prophets, is divided from the lunette by a cornice. On this is written an inscription which Sargent found in the Cathedral of Cephalu in Sicily. "Factus Homo, Factor Hominis, Factique Redemptor. Corporeus Redimo Corpora Cordi Deus."
The lunette contains three colossal figures. These are the Persons of the Trinity. They are bound by a single red cloak
* It now forms part of the "Dogma of the Redemption," at the south end of the Sargent Hall, facing the frieze of "The Prophets" and the lunette of "The Children of Israel under the hands of their oppressors," already referred to.
f Sargent substituted the word Redimo for Judico in the original — a change necessitated by the character of the decoration.
THE MISSES WETHEIMER
with a hem of gold. Their faces, slightly in relief, are exactly similar. Each raises a right hand in the manner of benediction common to the Greek Church. Thus is their oneness symbolized. A difference in the form of the crown worn by each figure indicates the difference of their several attributes.
The original bronze presented by Miss Sargent and Mrs. Ormond as a memorial to their brother now stands in the crypt of St. Paul's. There it can be judged as a work of art unrelated to the scheme for which it was designed and of which it now forms a part.
Throughout the composition we have the sense that he was profoundly conscious of the majesty of the subject with which he was dealing.*
Whistler, as soon as he saw The Crucifixion in the Academy, wrote to Sargent to say how fine he thought it,f and Whistler, as we learn from the Pennell Life, was not given to praising Sargent's art. Sargent himself considered that he had succeeded beyond his hopes. It was a work for which he had more liking than he generally allowed himself to entertain for his achievements. He gave to a few of his friends a small reproduction, and in a letter to Lady Lewis gave directions how it should be hung.
I am sending you the little bronze crucifix which I feel I rather thrust upon you, but still I know you will like it if only that it will remind you of the better big one. It ought to be hung about the level of one's eye and if possible not in too strong a side light. A top light is best but not easy to find in a house unless you can find room for it on your staircase. But to dictate where a gift horse is to go would be looking the recipient in the mouth as Solomon says. I am only too delighted that it should be in your house.
In 1902 Sargent spent the month of August in Norway. There he painted On His Holidays, a salmon river tumbling with agitated waters through a rocky channel with a portrait
* The idea of Adam and Eve receiving the blood of Christ on the Cross is found in a thirteenth-century window at Angers, and in another at Bourges. These are referred to in fimile Male's "Religious Art in France, Thirteenth Century," a book which was in the possession of Sargent and sold after his death. The American sculptor St. Gaudens, in a letter, described the Crucifix as a "masterpiece."
E. R. and J. Pennell, "The Whistler Journal,"
of young McCulloch lying on one of the rocks beside the salmon he had caught. The picture has the chilling accuracy of a photograph. It is a plain unvarnished tale, told in a cold Northern light, the work of an accomplished craftsman who has for the time being doffed the role of artist.
In London it was becoming rarer to meet him at the houses of other people. His circle was contracting to the radius of his real preferences. He had by no means a comprehensive interest in humanity; on the contrary, his taste in people as time went on became narrowly restricted. It was, in fact, only in a chosen circle that he was completely at his ease. No man could work at such pressure and not require that his relations with his fellowmen should be free of effort and constraint and devoid of formality. The "social function" element was irksome and distasteful to him. The commerce of words was only free and unhampered in a familiar atmosphere, in places where he could be mentally in his shirt-sleeves, in all "the quotidian undress and relaxation of his mind." Friendships which he had once formed he did not change or abate. To the end of his life he continued and carried along with him those he had made in his early days. But others were formed. In ,1898 he painted Mrs. Charles Hunter, the wife of Mr. Charles Hunter, a north- country coalowner, and the sister of Dame Ethel Smyth the composer. The Hunters entertained considerably in London. In the country they had a seventeenth-century house, Hill Hall, near Epping, some twenty miles by road from Hyde Park Corner. It was furnished and decorated in the Italian style and in admirable taste by Mrs. Hunter, who, herself keenly interested in the arts, had the faculty of gathering within the fold of her generous hospitality rising and risen lights of the literary and artistic world.
Sargent had paid tribute in kind to his hostess by marbling two immense columns, veritable Jackim and Boaz, in the hall, painting with the skill of the most accomplished house decorator.
Writing in 191 2 from Hill Hall, Henry James says:* . . . "I have made . . . this much a dash into the world. It is the
* "Letters," ii.
world of the wonderful and delightful Mrs. Charles Hunter, whom you may know (long my very kind friend), and all swimming just now in a sea of music; John Sargent (as much a player as a painter), Percy Grainger, Roger Quilter, Wilfred de Glehn and others: round whose harmonious circle, however, I roam as in outer darkness, catching a vague glow through the veiled windows of the temple, but on the whole only intelligent enough to feel and rue my stupidity — which is quite the wrong condition." In this world there could often be seen on Sunday and occasionally on week-days an assembly of notables seasoned with more fashionable and less renowned members of society. Henry James, George Moore, Max Beerbohm, Sargent, Professor Tonks, Wilson Steer, D. S. MacColl, de Glehns, Ethel Smyth, Percy Grainger, Roger Quilter, Cyril Scott, were among those most often to be found there. It was in just such company Sargent was most at ease, and it was such surroundings that his friendship with Mrs. Hunter henceforward secured for him. As the years went by, work during seven whole days of the week made it difficult and physically irksome for him to leave London. He stayed, too, at Lympne, Houghton and Panshanger. But paying visits — although once he was there no one seemed more care free — entailed in his case a surprising amount of preliminary worry. His real home was the house of his sister Emily. He talked to her every morning on the telephone, and when not dining out he dined with her in her room looking over the Thames. This was hung with the red damask that he had bought for her in Venice and, like her other rooms, with the pictures he had painted for her. Most evenings they had guests. Henry James, Mrs. Curtis, Professor Tonks, Wilson Steer, de Glehns, Nelson Ward, the Harrisons, Barnards, Alfred Parsons, Joseph Farquharson, R.A., Erskine Childers, and a few Academicians formed the nucleus of their society. Professor Tonks writes: "I was introduced to his mother and sister by Steer, and was invited to Mrs. Sargent's flat (as it then was) in Carlyle Mansions to dinner, very often now it seems to me, looking back, where I spent some of the happiest evenings of my life. Sargent was generally there, and I have a feeling that those who were not fortunate enough to meet him at those dinners missed the best of him. The evenings were very informal; we generally went in our ordinary clothes, and there was a sense of freedom which encouraged everyone to speak at his best. Sargent was on these occasions decidedly a good talker. As a public speaker he was a complete failure; at a dinner given to him by the Chelsea Arts Club he could do little else than hang on to the table, but at the table in Carlyle Mansions he made an admirable host, enjoyed talking himself and listening to others. He had a very accurate memory, disconcerting at times, as he had a way of correcting careless quotations. He was a most honest and fearless expresser of his views, perhaps a little irritable on contradiction, more so as time went on."
Every autumn after his mother's death in 1905 would see him crossing the Channel, always with his sister Emily, and either with the de Glehns or Miss Eliza Wedgwood, or the Misses Barnard, or Mrs. Ormond and her children, bound for some sketching centre in Italy or Corfu, Majorca or Spain, or in the Val d'Aosta. To the latter place he and his sister went in three successive years, and it was there that he painted Cashmere, The Hermit and well-known pictures of his nieces lying in various attitudes by the clear running brook, in brilliant Oriental clothes, which he took with him from London for the purpose. One year he travelled with a stuffed gazelle, bought at Rowland Ward's, which was to figure in some landscape. Here, too, he painted the portrait of himself by fixing a mirror to the trunk of a tree. This was a task that bored him unspeakably, and after a few strokes of his brush he would dash off to the brook to do one of his sketches. The gazelle was left at the painters' chalet in the Val d'Aosta, the portrait now hangs in the Urlizi.
What scenery did Sargent prefer ? We have already noticed how little he concerned himself with panorama and distance, and that he preferred "close ups"; within these limits and given bright sunshine his range was exceedingly wide. His letters contain some indications of his preferences. Writing to Ralph Curtis from the Palazzo Barbaro in 19 13 he said:
The de Glehns my sister and I are off in a day or two to the I ,akc of Guarda, where we have discovered a nasty little pension on a little promontory, which is otherwise paradise — cypresses, olives, a villa, a tiny little port, deep clear water and no tourists.
Again writing to the same correspondent he says:
.. „ Rome.
My dear Ralph,
I wish it were possible to accept your kind invitation and the
Dogaressa's (Mrs. Curtis) but it were easier for a camel to pass through a rich man's eye. The time is getting so short. I foresee that I shall hang on here till the train starts for Chelsea. ... In spite of scirocco and lots of rain we have been seeing the villas within miles round thanks to Mrs. Hunter's motor. They are magnificent and I should like to spend a summer at Frascati and paint from morning till night at the Tortonia or the Falconiere, ilexes and cypresses, fountains and statues — ainsi soit il — amen.
To Mrs. Adrian Stokes he wrote:
Ronda is a most picturesque place with magnificent scenery. It is on the edge of a tremendous cliff that looks across a great hollow with fine angular rocky ranges of mountains that would just suit Stokes. The objection to it is that the small boys are perfect devils and throw stones at painters and worry them out of their wits.
He had no liking for trim and ordered gardens; they had to be derelict or at any rate unkempt, and the more time had played undisturbed with the tresses of tree and shrub the more was his eye satisfied. Of Aranjuez he wrote:
This place is perfectly charming, grand gardens with Caver- nous avenues and fountains and statues, long neglected — good natured friendly people — lunch in the open air under arbours of roses. These Spaniards are the most amiable people in the world, they put themselves out for you in the most extraordinary way. With the common people it is no disadvantage being an American, for their newspapers told them that they gave us the most tremendous licking in Cuba. And the Artists and better people will do anything for a stranger.
Venice, once his favourite haunt, he thought had been rather marred for an artist by "the swarms of larky smart Londoners whose goings on fill the Gazette" goings on which, however, never failed to afford him amusement.
These extracts show his fidelity in taste to the environment of his childhood and early training. But olive and ilex, fountain and statue, sunlight and shade, rocks and running water were to him just problems of form and colour, opportunities for the exercise of his supreme craftsmanship rather than settings for moods induced by association or reflection.
In the winter of 1905 he was in Palestine "getting new fuel for his decorative work"; he was disappointed with the result.
Some new material (he wrote to Lady Lewis) I have secured but it is different from what I had in view and not abundant — no miraculous draught but I shall still fish here for a while and try to bring back some weightier stuff than lots of impossible sketches and perhaps useless studies.
In January, 1906, he was in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem when news reached him of his mother's illness and death. He was deeply affected. He telegraphed begging that the funeral should be delayed till his return. This was done. Meanwhile he spent days of agitated distress waiting at Jaffa for a boat. A strong tie had been broken. He was a devoted son.
Everything is dreadful (he wrote) except that her friends were good and that death itself came unsuspected and unrecognized. . . .*
To these tours through Europe in his chosen company he owed some of the happiest months of his life. He was away from portraits, which by 1909 had become wearisome to him. As early as 1906 he had written to Lady Lewis: "I have now got a bomb-proof shelter into which I retire when I sniff the coming portrait or its trajectory." Abroad he could go where his eye led him, and choose his subject; life was plain sailing on a sea of summer. He would breakfast at 7.30, and then sally out to sketch, working till the light failed. His energy was inexhaustible. The hours of sunshine were treasured like gold. Sight seeing was reserved for rainy days. In the evenings he would play chess, or the piano where one was available — duets, with Mrs. de Glehn or Miss Eliza Wedgwood, from Brahms, Schumann or Albeniz. "The only pleasure," he wrote, "of coming back to one's own house is the pleasure of unpacking the bibelots one has got elsewhere — good wholesome sentiment."
* Letter to Lady Lewis.
SARGENT'S greatest portraits are not the product of any- particular period, they lie scattered through his work. In the first English years we get the Misses Vickers> Mrs. Boit Mrs. Hemenway, and then in 1895 Coventry Patmore and Graham Robertson. In 1897 Mrs. Carl Meyer's portrait was shown at the Academy. None of his pictures is more effectively organized and composed, none is more melodious. It strikes a note of gaiety as of silver bells. There is the optimism of spring in the running lines of the composition and the freshness of the rose and pink colour which swim through the picture. Sumptuousness in dress and furniture tells its story of opulence, but it is refined and rarefied, robbed of its insistence, and subdued to the central purpose of the design. The colour scheme is closely related; remove a ribbon, straighten a fold of the dress, release a figure from the pattern of the sofa, or dispense with an accent and the whole picture would suffer, its unity would crumble. There is nothing obvious or redundant, nothing that is not charming, even exciting, in this triumphant artistry. The Meyer picture was followed by the Wertheimer series, Miss Jane Evans , Mrs. Charles Hunter ', Lady Faudel Phillips and in 1900 the Wyndham group.
This is one of his most purely and unmistakably English pictures, a tour de force in characterization, drawing and the handling of white. Three figures dressed in white, and a white sofa in the lower half of the picture presented formidable difficulties : a risk of suggesting a section of geological strata. The artist has posed the elder sister seated on the back of the sofa, in profile, her head slightly turned to the spectators; her delicate intellectual beauty dominates the scene and carries the white into the upper section of the canvas. Further relief to the mass has been obtained by the magnolias, which effect the transition into the shadow of the room beyond. The beauty of the picture lies not only in the colour and drawing, but in the impression of serenity and calm. Sargent has here isolated these sisters from the world and encompassed them with their own associations. They are back once again in the surroundings that made their common bond; their mother's picture by Watts is seen on the wall beyond, the noise of life is hushed for the moment. There is a charming sentiment in the composition without a trace of sentimentality.
In the following years the Academy saw the portraits of Mrs. Charles Russell, C. S. Lock, Mrs. Leopold Hirsch, the Marlborough group, M. Leon Delafosse and in 1907 the portrait of Lady Sassoon.
In the portrait of Lady Sassoon, Sargent has conveyed a subtle impression of the individuality of his sitter. Evidently he was here confronted with a highly strung temperament, features of exceptional distinction and refinement, and a personality kindly, alert — even to the point of restlessness — and instinct with pride of race. The result is both a study of character and a work of art. It is painted with the utmost freedom and dexterity. The tumultuous crown of feathers in the hat, the movement suggested in the pose of the figure, the quick play of light and shade over the black silk cloak, the elegant and sensitive hands, all contribute to an impression bordering on flurry. Yet in spite of this a certain nobility and calm, deeper than momentary agitation, is the ultimate effect of the composition. Not infrequently Sargent is criticized for opaqueness or leatheriness in his paint, for a want of luminosity and charm in his colour; here there is no trace of these defects. The delicate ivory white of the skin has a quality of transparency, the liveliness of the black and the softness of the rose-colour, introduced to give fresh- ness to the scheme, are delightful. All has been painted with a sure and fluent touch. If the spectator disregards the portrait and considers solely the picture, he is at once struck by the beauty of the design, its plastic structure, the crisp freshness of the colour, and the black background on which the figure has been wrought. This has a quality of range and mystery purely atmospheric, its depth appears illimitable, an effect which Sargent has equally achieved in the case of his portrait of Lord Wemyss. Of the latter picture Mr. Downes says: "His lordship did not like it at all and was not the least disposed to conceal his feelings in the matter." Mr. Downes has been entirely misinformed. The picture, subscribed for by friends, was painted for Lord Wemyss* ninetieth birthday. Sargent considered it one of the best portraits he had painted, a view which was fully shared by the sitter. Nothing is more remarkable in this picture than the way in which the dreariness of modern dress has been disposed of, and a frock coat and tall hat made to serve the end of art. The hat, held in the left hand, reflects a subdued accent of light; the lines of the coat barely to be distinguished from the background, lose all rigidity in the obscurity, emphasize the composition and indicate the upright carriage and dignity of the figure. The hands, which supply a half-tone in the lower section of the canvas, are a fine example of the painter's gift for modelling, and illustrate a topic to which he often referred — namely, the effect on the circulation and consequently on the tones of the hands when they are held downwards for more than a few moments.
The picture of Lord Wemyss, 1909, may be regarded as the close of Sargent's official career as a portrait painter: after that he painted only when importunity made it churlish to refuse, or his own decided inclination prompted him to accede.
It is more difficult with Sargent than with most artists to determine the approximate date of any given picture. We can see that the Misses Vickers is an early and F. J. H. Jenkinson a late work; we can safely assign to the years 1888-89 certain essays in Impressionism; and we could even feel confident that Wineglasses and An Atlantic Storm were painted in his youth; but, apart from these instances, his transitions as a portrait painter are so slight and so gradual that his pictures painted after 1884 show differences of style which are scarcely perceptible.
As time progressed and his facility grew, there may be noticed a tendency to emphasis, especially in draperies, the folds becoming deeper, the planes more complicated, while lights and accents are flicked on to the canvas with increasing skill and effect. But in the broader aspects of structure, design and colouring his style shows no variation that can be related to a year or a decade. His best pictures are those with the least definite backgrounds, his least successful those that have an out-of-door mise en scene. His English scenery in his full-length portraits is cold and artificial, often arbitrary as a photographer's studio. In the multitude of his works his excellence as a painter of animals is too frequently lost sight of. Yet who has painted dogs with the same characterization, whether we take the self-conscious dandyism of the poodles in the pictures of Asher Wertheimer and Graham Robertson the fussy intelligence of the Duke of Portland's collies, or the care-free repose of the terrier in the Hunter group ? Or who has rendered with equal perspicacity the slow strength of oxen, the texture of their coats, their imperturbability and their gaze of patient enquiry ? Whether he is painting a herd of goats on a hillside or horses picketed in their lines, he gives their distinguishing character just as he makes the utmost use of them for his design.
Although he gave up portrait painting he went on with his charcoal and pencil heads, and a census of these would produce a startling figure. It has been found impossible to arrive at even an approximate estimate of those he did in London and America. A distinguished diplomatist made a habit, when he found himself at dinner next to a lady he did not know, of saying: "How do you like your Sargent drawing?" He declared that as a conversational gambit it was successful nine times out of ten. But it is not by these drawings that Sargent will live: they are likenesses and deliberate exercises in skill; it is only in comparatively few that his genius is apparent.
Though he left a considerable fortune there is little doubt that he could have doubled or trebled it. Money was a part of the machinery of life in which he took very little interest. His charges for portraits varied considerably: for the Vickers group (1884) he received £400, the Ladies Aches on group (1901) £2,100, for the Baltimore Doctors (1906) £3,000, for the Marlborough group (1906) 2,500 guineas. For full-lengths he received 1,000 guineas, for lesser pictures prices varying from £500 to £800. During the War for two pictures, one of President Wilson, the other of Mrs. Duxbury, painted for the British Red Cross, he received £10,000 each and to that extent enriched the funds of the society. For oil landscapes he asked prices varying from £100 to £500, for water-colours seldom more than £50. For eighty-three water-colours sold to an American museum in 1909 he received £4,000. For charcoal portraits he charged at first 21 guineas, which price was gradually increased till in 1923 he began charging 100 guineas.
With regard to his drawings he wrote to Lady Lewis: "I never know what to ask for a mere snapshot especially, if it does not happen to be a miraculously lucky one."
It was with the utmost reluctance that he could be induced, for the purpose of sale, to pull out any one of the water-colours which used to lie in their frames, jammed one against the other, in a large rack on the floor of his studio. If in response to insistence he acquiesced, he would produce one or two, always with a good deal of gutteral protest, pointing out what he considered their drawbacks, and qualifying them with some derogatory title. "Vegetables," "Dried Seaweed," "Troglodytes of the Cordilleras," "Blokes," "Idiots of the Mountains" and "Intertwingles" come back to me as a few of the titles bestowed on various renderings of woodland scenery, muleteers, figures on a hillside, and of a portrait group on a river bank. Mrs. de Glehn remembers a picture he painted in Corfu of three figures, including herself and Miss Wedgwood, in "keepsake" attitudes, which he labelled with complete gusto to himself as "Triple Bosh." This picture now figures in a South American collection under a more official title.
On another occasion in the Simplon when he had done a water-colour of recumbent figures, with his easel fixed in a depression of the ground, he called the result "A Worm's Eye View."
Mr. Downes, in his account of Sargent's "Life and Work," mentions that he once asked him whether "Darnation, Silly,
Silly, Pose," an alternative title for Carnation, Lily Lily Rose, was attributable to Whistler, and that Sargent replied that it
did not sound like Whistler. The author of the quip, however,
was not far to seek. These mock titles, which might be multiplied, sprang from no affectation and were due to no desire to
belittle what he had done, but were shot to the surface from an
undercurrent of boyishness which never left him, from a horror
of pomposity and portentousness about his art, and even, one
might say, to check and damp down any tendency in others to
an excess of admiration. They were the play of an essentially
JOHN SINGER SARGENT SKETCHING.
Frequently the prices he asked showed that he had no idea of the commercial value of these sketches. Dealers have been known, after getting the pictures home, to proffer a further sum in acquittal of what had all the appearance of an unconscionable bargain. Indeed, the whole process of bargain and sale was conducted on such original and topsy-turvy principles that amateurs had to employ artifice in order to force the price up to a fair level. On one occasion a friend of his, afraid that on a straight deal the artist would either make a present of the picture or charge a nominal amount, professed to be acting for a South African millionaire. A picture was chosen, but Sargent objected that he did not want it to go out of the country. It was pointed out that the millionaire had a house in London for which the picture was wanted. On that understanding the deal was concluded, but on terms which remained most inadequate for the seller. When Sargent had ascertained the true facts he wrote:
My dear ,
Your methods give me the cold shivers, and I am filled with awe when I remember the candid face you showed when I asked you if there was any nonsense about your enquiry. If there was a sun today it would go down on my perplexity and indecision if not on my wrath. I shall have to consult a clairvoyante or the bowels of a bird as to what action I must take.
Yours as a rule,
John S. Sargent.
He was more amused than incensed. Enough has been said to show that he was the least mercenary of men. He belonged neither to those whose generosity is beyond their means nor to that larger class whose means are beyond their generosity. He gave where assistance was wanted. His disregard of money was part of the largeness of his character and outlook. It may be doubted if in later years he had the least idea what he was worth. Towards the end of his life an occasion arose when it became necessary to tell him the amount which he had standing to his credit in the United States. He could only say: "It can't be mine, they've made a mistake at the Bank, it must belong to someone else." As long as he had sufficient means wherewith to pursue his art in his own way and, above all, to assist others, he was entirely indifferent to money. He made no enquiries and left to others the conduct of his affairs.