John Singer Sargent RA (1856 - 1925)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

A prolific painter and draughtsman, Sargent was a leading portraitist of his generation, famed for evoking the luxury and elegance of wealthy Edwardian society.

Sargent was born into an expatriate American family and spent his childhood travelling across Europe, visiting museums and churches and gaining artistic exposure from an early age. He trained in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts and at the atelier of portraitist Carolus-Duran, whose modern teaching method was pivotal in forming Sargent’s bold painting and progressive compositions.

In 1879, the young artist travelled to Spain and Italy where he found much inspiration in local culture, particularly music. On his return to Paris, Sargent received several portrait commissions. His gentlemanly manners and painterly virtuosity endeared him to French bourgeois society. In the early 1880s he achieved success at the annual Salons with full-length portraits of women, until 1884 when his most controversial work Portrait of Madame X (1884, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) was displayed. The public outrage surrounding the painting caused a negatively affected commissions, prompting Sargent to move to London.

Sargent achieved his first major success at the Royal Academy in 1887 with the painting Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (now at Tate Britain). He quickly established himself as a sought-after portraitist, charming his clients with his thorough process and affable demeanour – he would often entertain his sitter by playing a tune on the piano.

With his reputation assured, Sargent was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1894, becoming full Academician in 1897. 1900 marked the peak of his fame and commercial success, and he painted prolifically until 1907. At this point, Sargent stopped taking portrait commissions and began travelling, focussing on landscapes and architectural subjects. His works remained incredibly popular and were purchased by private collectors and museums alike. In 1909 he was offered a knighthood but refused in order to keep his American citizenship.

Despite criticism from modernist circles that his painting was archaic and counter to contemporary trends, Sargent kept painting until his death in 1925 and remains a key figure in the transition from traditional academic art to a freer, modern style of painting.


Royal Academician


Born: 12 January 1856 in Florence, Italy

Died: 15 April 1925

Nationality: American, British

Elected ARA: 9 January 1894

Elected RA: 14 January 1897

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting, Mural painting, and Watercolour

Works by John Singer Sargent in the RA Collection

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Works associated with John Singer Sargent in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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