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Sir William Blake Richmond, ca. 1910, by John Singer Sargent (Lent by the National Portrait Gallery, London)
Art lovers know Italian-born American artist John Singer Sargent for his gorgeous, large-scale portraits of American and European elites. He also painted many beautiful watercolors. Although oil portraits made his career, in 1907 Sargent surprised the art world by abandoning oil painting and turning to the medium of charcoal which he used to produce several hundred portraits of individuals recognized for their accomplishments in fields such as art, music, literature and theater. John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Charcoal is the first exhibition of Sargent’s portrait drawing in over fifty years. These charcoal portraits have the same delicate balance of detail and simplification that is so compelling about his oil paintings. Faces – the most important part of any portrait – are always tightly rendered. Many works highlight fabulous hats, dramatic shawls, and sweeping hairstyles, while the rest of the body and clothing seem to dissolve into the background.
Despite numerous exhibitions of Sargent’s work in oil and watercolor, his charcoal portraits have been largely overlooked. The subjects of his drawings are writers, politicians, musicians, artists and friends who played formative roles in the social and cultural fabric of the US and Great Britain in the early twentieth century, and his renderings provide important insight into Sargent’s artistic skill and sensitivity.
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National Portrait Gallery
8th & G Sts NW, Washington, DC 20004
Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown