John Singer Sargent American, 1856-1925


By the 1920s, John Singer Sargent was understood to be the greatest living American artist; he was rivaled in watercolor by only a handful of practitioners of the medium. Sargent used  watercolor to express the progress of old-world artistic ideals into a modern context. His watercolors, even more fully than his oils, interwove a broad range of subjects with a brisk new treatment of light and color. His early growth, in Paris and London, into a portraitist of style and distinction became the foundation for his exploration of impressionism and a dazzling expressive idiom for the twentieth century.


He was renowned for his bravura line and stylish manner in oil—and these qualities are on more dramatic display in his watercolors. Sargent had worked in watercolor for some time, but by the early years of the twentieth century, he dedicated himself to the medium with new vigor. This commitment was certainly fueled in part by his travels: the fast-drying medium was ideal for compositions on the go. His confidence with the medium allowed him to inscribe works with minute detail, while also deploying broad passages of untouched paper to present bright light. The medium leaves its practitioner no room to hide from error or hesitation, and Sargent required none.