Paul Johnson

Sitting At Ease

John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits


Yale University Press 364pp £45 order from our bookshop

I SUSPECT THAT Sargent will eventually be acknowledged as the greatest portrait painter of the twentieth century, though strictly speaking he was already recognised as a master long before the end of the nineteenth. His skill was unequalled in his day; it has never been equalled since, and only rarely in history. His energy and output were prodigious and though he officially gave up portrait painting in 1907, he made ‘exceptions’ which form a sizeable gallery on their own, and also produced over 600 charcoal portraits, many superlative. One reason he succeeded as a portraitist was that he was an exceptionally agreeable man, modest and sweet-natured, who could put even the most prickly people at their ease and, as most testified, turned the awkward business of sitting into a pleasure.

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