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October 31, 2013–January 20, 2014

The Inscrutable Eye watercolors by John Singer Sargent in isabella stewart gardner’s collection

The Inscrutable Eye

Our collection offers a rich trove of works by John Singer Sargent. Best known are his legendary Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner and the monumental El Jaleo, but dozens of other works by Sargent are displayed throughout the Museum. This exhibition offers a look at the vibrant watercolors Sargent made for his own pleasure that were avidly collected by Gardner towards the end of her life. With their brilliant technique and fresh colors, these pictures reveal the stupendous qualities of Sargent’s draftsmanship. The exhibition brings together for the first time a selection of watercolors and personal artifacts that shed light on the lifelong friendship between Gardner and Sargent based on their shared passion for art. — Oliver Tostmann, William and Lia Poorvu Cur ator of the Collection


John Singer Sargent, San Giuseppe di Castello, Venice, about 1903 John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Gardner in White, 1922

A Singular Friendship isabella stewart gardner and john singer sargent

After 1900 John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) scaled back from the society portraiture that had won him fame to painting watercolors for his own pleasure. As a patron and avid collector of Sargent’s art since the 1880s, Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840–1924) desired to own examples of his latest work. To her dismay, Sargent insisted that his watercolors “only amounted to anything when taken as a lot together” and so individual sketches were rarely available for sale. Nevertheless, between 1903 and 1923, Gardner succeeded in acquiring eleven Sargent water­colors, mostly by purchasing gifts he had made to friends that came onto the art market. She spent almost $20,000 on these purchases, causing Sargent to write to her that he was “shocked at [her] extravagance.”1 Gardner’s collecting was driven by both a love of Sargent’s art and the singular friendship she enjoyed with the artist. During the course of the forty years that they knew each other, she acquired forty-two of his artworks from every phase of his career, encompassing genre painting, formal oil portraits, watercolors, studies for public murals and personal sketches. She also kept nearly two hundred of the letters that he sent to her, some of which she displayed alongside photographs and a portrait medallion of the artist in a ‘Whistler and Sargent Case’ in her museum. Through Gardner’s remarkable collection of Sargent’s art and mementoes of their friendship, she ensured that their legacies as artist and collector remain inextricably intertwined. Gardner and Sargent first met in the artist’s studio in London in October 1886 by arrangement of their mutual friend Henry James. The writer took

1. Letter from Sargent to Gardner, 8 February 1920 (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Archives).

Gardner to see Sargent’s infamous painting Madame X (now The Metro­ politan Museum of Art, New York). Gardner admired Sargent’s daring portrait so much that when they next met she commissioned him to paint her likeness. Gardner’s own portrait, from early 1888 (now in the Gothic Room), caused much commentary in the press when it debuted at Boston’s St. Botolph Club, in the artist’s first solo exhibition in America. The relationship between Sargent and Gardner grew from shared passions for the arts and from socializing with mutual friends on both sides of the Atlantic. They saw each other whenever he was in Boston, enjoyed high and low-brow pursuits together from Wagner operas to Charlie Chaplin movies, and also lent each other books on diverse topics. Sargent shaped Gardner’s collection through gifts of his own works such as his portrait of the violinist Charles Martin Loeffler, and through recommendations for purchases, including a magnificent seventeenth-century Isfahan carpet. Gardner closely followed Sargent’s career, visiting him at his studios and installation sites, and obtaining photographs of his latest paintings Gardner gave Sargent special privileges accorded to none of the other artists whom she patronized. In 1903 she allowed him to set up a portraiture studio in the Gothic Room and use the antique furniture there as props for his sitters. A decade after the opening of her museum, she paid Sargent the ultimate tribute by drastically altering its appearance to create the Spanish Cloister for his masterpiece El Jaleo. In 1922, aged eighty-two and partially paralyzed by a stroke, she entrusted Sargent to paint her final portrait, a watercolor. Their intimacy is palpable in his sensitive rendering of the frail but indomitable Gardner. In recognition of their lifelong friendship, Gardner appointed Sargent as one of her honorary pallbearers. Unable to attend her funeral in 1924, he regretted not performing this duty but, in some respects, had already bid farewell with his last watercolor for Gardner. — Anne-Marie Eze, Associate Curator of the Collection

in the exhibition Santa Maria della Salute, Venice  1903–1907 Watercolor on paper, 349 × 535 mm Signed: “John S. Sargent” Gift from Sargent to Alice Faraday (1847–1952), widow of the English artist Frederick Barnard (1846–1896), 1903–1907. Purchased by Gardner from the gallery Doll & Richards, Boston on 26 October 1916 for $1,250. San Giuseppe di Castello, Venice  about 1903 Watercolor on paper, 306 × 458 mm Inscribed: “To Helen Henschel and Wolfram Onslow Ford John S. Sargent” Engagement gift from Sargent to Helen Henschel (1882–1973), professional singer, and the artist Wolfram Onslow Ford (b. about 1881) in 1904. Purchased by Gardner at auction from Anderson Galleries, New York on 6 February 1920 for $3,500, through American artist Louis Kronberg (1872–1965). Ponte della Canonica, Venice  1903–1907 Watercolor on paper, 458 × 306 mm Inscribed: “To Miss Wertheimer John S. Sargent” Gift from John Singer Sargent to a daughter of the London art dealer Asher Wertheimer, 1903–1907. Purchased by Gardner at auction from Anderson Galleries, New York on 6 February 1920 for $3,500, through the American artist Louis Kronberg. Santa Maria dei Gesuati, Venice 1903–1904 Watercolor on paper, 379 × 537 mm Inscribed: “To Mary Hunter John S. Sargent” Gift from Sargent to Mary Hunter (1857-1933), British socialite. Purchased by Gardner from the art dealer Daniel H. Farr, Philadephia on 15 October 1920 for $3,850.

A Tent in the Rockies  about 1916 Watercolor on paper, 380 × 520 mm Signed: “John S. Sargent” Purchased by Gardner from the gallery Doll & Richards, Boston on 26 October 1916 for $325. Mrs. Gardner in White 1922 Watercolor on paper, 430 × 320 mm Inscribed: “To my friend Mrs. Gardner John S. Sargent” Gift from Sargent to Gardner on 14 September 1922. Bus Horses in Jerusalem 1905 Watercolor on paper, 400 × 520 mm Signed: “John S. Sargent 1905” Purchased by Gardner from Sargent, London on 7 January 1907 for £40. Incensing the Veil  about 1880 Watercolor on paper, 300 × 200 mm Inscribed: “à Pozzi, souvenir amical John S. Sargent” Gift from Sargent to Dr. Samuel Pozzi (1846–1918), French surgeon and gynecologist. Purchased by Gardner from the art dealer Daniel H. Farr, Philadelphia on 17 November 1919 for $1,950.

in the case Mrs. Gardner 1888 Pencil on paper, 205 × 128 mm Inscribed by Gardner: “John S. Sargent Feb 28. 1888” Presumably a gift from Sargent to Gardner, 1888.

Sidney Carter (1880–1956) Portrait of John Singer Sargent 1920 Gelatin silver print Gift to Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from Sidney Carter, 1954. John Singer Sargent Painting in the Gothic Room 1903 Platinum prints (2) John Singer Sargent Painting the Schooner Catherine 1921 Gelatin silver prints (2) Gift to Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from Richard Hale, 1929. Letters from Sargent to Gardner  Venice, 14 September 1902; London, 24 February 1909; Boston, 19 November 1916 Receipts to Gardner  From Doll & Richards, 26 October 1916; from Daniel H. Farr, 19 October 1920

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Mrs. Gardner at Fenway Court  about 1903 Watercolor on paper, 451 × 305 mm Presumably a gift from Sargent to Gardner, 1903. Charles Martin Loeffler 1903 Oil on canvas, 87 × 62 cm Inscribed “To Mrs. Gardner, con buone feste from her friend John S. Sargent” Birthday gift from Sargent to Gardner on 14 April 1903.

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Jascha Heifetz 1918 Pencil on paper board, 237 × 219 mm Inscribed: “To Mrs. Gardner Souvenier (sic) of Heifetz and J.S.S. March 17 1918” Gift from Sargent to Gardner, 1918. Yoho Falls 1916 Oil on canvas, 94 × 113 cm Signed: “John S. Sargent 1916” Purchased by Gardner from Sargent, Boston on 26 November 1916 for $2,500. Astarte 1893–1894 Oil on canvas, 91 × 30 cm Inscribed: “To Sir Frederic Leighton John S. Sargent” Acquired by Sir Frederic Leighton (1830–1896), English painter and sculptor, from Sargent about 1894. Purchased by Gardner from Robert Dunthorne (b. about 1851), print dealer and publisher, through her friend Sally Fairchild (1869–1960) on 8 August 1896 for £170. The Terrace at La Granja  1903, 1904, or 1912 Watercolor on paper, 299 × 451 mm Inscribed: “To Mrs. Wertheimer with the compliments of John Singer Sargent” Gift from Sargent to Flora Wertheimer (d. 1922), wife of the London art dealer, Asher Wertheimer. Purchased by Gardner at auction from Anderson Galleries, New York on 6 February 1920 for $2,800, through American artist Louis Kronberg. Miss Violet Sargent  about 1890 Oil on canvas, 50 × 40 cm Presumably a gift from Sargent to Lucia Fairchild Fuller (1872–1924), American miniature painter, 1890. Purchased by Gardner from Fuller through Eleanor Platt (1869–1953), wife of the artist and architect Charles Adams Platt (1861–1955), on 8 January 1895 for $500.

first FLOOR Macknight Room

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East Cloister 9 37

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Spanish Cloister

Fenway Gallery

Chinese Loggia

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Yellow Room

Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast 1882–1883 Oil on panel, 32 × 41 cm Inscribed: “à Me (sic) Avegno témoignage d’amitié John S. Sargent” Sargent dedicated this painting to the sitter’s mother, Madame Anatole Avegno (1818–1887). At a later unknown date it was acquired by Dr. Samuel Pozzi (1846–1918), French surgeon and gynecologist and reputedly Gautreau’s lover. Purchased by Gardner at the auction of Pozzi’s collection, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 23–24 June 1919, lot 23 for 15,651 francs through Fernand Robert, her regular agent in Paris. El Jaleo 1882 Oil on canvas, 232 × 348 cm Signed: “John S. Sargent 1882” Purchased by the Schaus Gallery, New York from the Paris Salon of 1882. Purchased by T. Jefferson Coolidge (1831–1920), American businessman and diplomat, from the Schaus Gallery, 1882. Gift from Coolidge to Gardner, 1914.


Veronese Room

Gothic Room Titian Room

Courtyard Chapel

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Long Gallery

Rio di San Salvatore, Venice 1906–1911 Watercolor on paper, 251 × 355 mm Signed: “John S. Sargent” Presumably a gift from Sargent to Juliet Trower. Purchased by Gardner from Frank W. Bayley, Copley Gallery, Boston on 24 October 1923 for $2,500. Thomas Whittemore 1922 Charcoal on paper, 603 × 451 mm Signed: “John S. Sargent 1922” Presumably a gift from Sargent to Thomas Whittemore (1871–1950), American scholar and archaeologist, 1922. Gift from Whittemore to Gardner, 1922–1924. Set of Nine Casts of Medallions and Cartouches in the Boston Public Library 1903–1916 Plaster Gift from Sargent to Gardner, 1916–1919.

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Whistler and Sargent Case A Spanish Madonna 1879–1895 Oil on panel, 34 × 15 cm Inscribed: “To Mrs. I Gardner John S. Sargent” Gift from Sargent to Gardner before 1919. Isabella Stewart Gardner 1888 Oil on canvas, 190 × 80 cm Signed: “John S. Sargent 1888” Gardner purchased from Sargent on 6 February 1888 for $3,000.

not on view Twenty-One Studies for El Jaleo (Sargent Sketchbook) 1879–1882 Charcoal and pencil on paper, 240 × 330 mm Inscribed: “John S. Sargent to Mrs. Gardner, 1919” Gift from Sargent to Gardner, 1919. Ten Studies for the Rotunda and Grand Staircase of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 1917–1922 Charcoal on paper and one collotypye print, 480 × 630 mm Signed: “John S. Sargent” Probably a gift from Sargent to Gardner in 1922. 197 letters from Sargent to Gardner 1886–1923


John Singer Sargent, Incensing the Veil, about 1880


The Inscrutable Eye: Watercolors by John Singer Sargent in Isabella Stewart Gardner's Collection