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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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John Singer Sargent mastered both oils and watercolours, culminating in an impressive list of wealthy patrons keen to add his work to their collections

High output in multiple mediums

Pleasingly for his backers, Sargent was an extraordinarily prolific artist, counting thousands of completed artworks by the end of his career. Each of his main mediums - drawing, watercolour and oils - have received their own critical praise, each also receiving specific exhibitions.

There are few artists whose drawings have attracted their own passionate following, but it was his oil and watercolours which became the most famous and memorable. This section draws together the best of both mediums and covers the various themes that his work covered. Portraits remain his best known content, but landscapes also figure prominently.

Inspirations on his painting style

The style of painting used by Sargent was influenced by his travels across Europe having been born to American parents in Florence, Italy. The biggest praise that can be given to his career is that much of his work was comparable to that of European artists of around that time.

Relationships with fellow artists

One key aspect to his success, beyond purely his own technical skills, was the company that he kept around the 1880s. The likes of Claude Monet, James McNeill Whistler and Henry James were all friends of this much-travelled, cultural American artist. There are clear elements of their work within his, but as genuine influences rather than replication.

There are elements of impressionism and realism across his oil paintings, with some portraits reminding many of the Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt, who frequently captured elegant women in full length portraits. The combination of classic atire within a style that moves beyond the ideas of the earlier Baroque and Renaissance periods have proven particularly popular in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The paintings included here will touch on some of the various locations in which Sargent produced some of his paintings, covering different areas of Europe. Travelling between the UK, France and Italy is a path followed by many famous names, including another highly significant watercolour painter, JMW Turner.

Varied genres across his oeuvre

The final ingredient to Sargent's success was his ability to produce charming compositions, always bright, positive and flattering to his subjects. Some would be family life, others elegant landscapes. He was an artist who had a nack for connecting with the public, which not all classically trained artists could naturally do.

The United States has an enviable records within art over recent centuries, but most famous names occur from around the 1950s onwards. Sargent is a rare name, being someone who competed against Europeans to great success as early as the 19th century.

John Singer Sargent's Oil Paintings

Dorothy Barnard John Singer Sargent
Dorothy Barnard
Emily Sargent John Singer Sargent
Emily Sargent
Eugene Juillerat John Singer Sargent
Eugene Juillerat
Fishing for Oysters at Cancale John Singer Sargent
Fishing for Oysters at Cancale
Head of a Capri Girl John Singer Sargent
Head of a Capri Girl
House and Garden John Singer Sargent
House and Garden
Interior of the Doge's Palace John Singer Sargent
Interior of the Doge's Palace
La Carmencita John Singer Sargent
La Carmencita
Landscape with Rose Trellis John Singer Sargent
Landscape with Rose Trellis
Madame Ramon Subercaseaux John Singer Sargent
Madame Ramon Subercaseaux
Male Model Resting John Singer Sargent
Male Model Resting
Millet's Garden John Singer Sargent
Millet's Garden
Miss Frances Sherborne Ridley Watts John Singer Sargent
Miss Frances Sherborne Ridley Watts
Morning Walk John Singer Sargent
Morning Walk
Mrs George Gribble John Singer Sargent
Mrs George Gribble
Mrs George Swinton John Singer Sargent
Mrs George Swinton
Mrs Hugh Hammersley John Singer Sargent
Mrs Hugh Hammersley
My Dining Room John Singer Sargent
My Dining Room
Nice John Singer Sargent
Nude Egyptian GirlX John Singer Sargent
Nude Egyptian Girl
Paul Helleu Sketching his Wife John Singer Sargent
Paul Helleu Sketching his Wife
Portrait of Jeanne Kieffer John Singer Sargent
Portrait of Jeanne Kieffer
Ramon Subercaseaux John Singer Sargent
Ramon Subercaseaux
Seascape John Singer Sargent
Staircase in Capri John Singer Sargent
Staircase in Capri
Still Life with Daffodils John Singer Sargent
Still Life with Daffodils
The Spanish Dancer John Singer Sargent
The Spanish Dancer
Two Wine Glasses John Singer Sargent
Two Wine Glasses
Two Women Asleep in a Punt under the Willows John Singer Sargent
Two Women Asleep in a Punt under the Willows
Violet Sargent John Singer Sargent
Violet Sargent

John Singer Sargent Watercolours

Watercolours offered Sargent a freedom from both his studio and also the demanding patrons who financed much of his career. The opportunity to explore the European countryside in extended periods brought real enjoyment to this free spirit.

He would cover both architecture and also purely natural scenes, such as the Venician architecture and the mountain ranges of the Alps. One stylistic characteristic of Sargent was to compose a more fragmented artwork, which became common in the generations that followed.

The bold cropping technique is something also found later in photography whereas artists in previous centuries followed a traditional method of centering the subject, leaving the main focus more complete. The angles used by this artist also made his work within this genre unique to the rest of his career.

Photographic evidence has shown that Sargent would frequently set up with two umbrellas protecting himself and his canvas, often angled against the hills on which he was often perched. His work in Switzerland was frequently completed in such conditions, appreciating the stunning landscape of this region and adapting his posture to remain comfortable.

The evidence of this section suggests that Sargent chose oils in most cases for his portrait paintings and watercolours for his landscapes. This, generally specaking, is true, although there was also plenty of crossover. For example, his portraits would include several artworks of the same subject, including oils, watercolours and pencil drawings.

A Siesta John Singer Sargent
A Siesta
A Spanish Barracks John Singer Sargent
A Spanish Barracks
A Spanish Interior John Singer Sargent
A Spanish Interior
Base of a Palace John Singer Sargent
Base of a Palace
Bedouin Camp John Singer Sargent
Bedouin Camp
Bedouin Mother John Singer Sargent
Bedouin Mother
Bedouins John Singer Sargent
Boats Venice John Singer Sargent
Boats Venice
Festa della Regatta John Singer Sargent
Festa della Regatta
Fortress Roads and Rocks John Singer Sargent
Fortress Roads and Rocks
Gondoliers Siesta John Singer Sargent
Gondoliers Siesta
Gourds John Singer Sargent
Hills of Galilee John Singer Sargent
Hills of Galilee
In a Hayloft John Singer Sargent
In a Hayloft
In a Levantine Port John Singer Sargent
In a Levantine Port
In a Medici Villa John Singer Sargent
In a Medici Villa
In the Tyrol John Singer Sargent
In the Tyrol
Mending a Sail John Singer Sargent
Mending a Sail
On the Canal John Singer Sargent
On the Canal
Peter Harrison Asleep John Singer Sargent
Peter Harrison Asleep
Peter Harrison John Singer Sargent
Peter Harrison
Ponte della Canonica John Singer Sargent
Ponte della Canonica
Ponte san Giuseppe di Castello Venice John Singer Sargent
Ponte san Giuseppe di Castello Venice
Purtud Alpine Scene and Boulders John Singer Sargent
Purtud Alpine Scene and Boulders
Purtud Bed of a Glacier Torrent John Singer Sargent
Purtud Bed of a Glacier Torrent
Rio de Santa Maria Formosa John Singer Sargent
Rio de Santa Maria Formosa
Rio dell Angelo John Singer Sargent
Rio dell Angelo
Saddle Horse Palestine John Singer Sargent
Saddle Horse Palestine
Santa Maria Della Salute John Singer Sargent
Santa Maria Della Salute
Scuola di San Rocco John Singer Sargent
Scuola di San Rocco
Siesta John Singer Sargent
Sketching on the Giudecca John Singer Sargent
Sketching on the Giudecca
Spirito Santo Saattera John Singer Sargent
Spirito Santo Saattera
The Brook John Singer Sargent
The Brook
The Libreria John Singer Sargent
The Libreria
The Plains from Nazareth John Singer Sargent
The Plains from Nazareth
The Tramp John Singer Sargent
The Tramp
Turkish Woman by a Stream John Singer Sargent
Turkish Woman by a Stream
Unloading Boats in Venice John Singer Sargent
Unloading Boats in Venice
Venetian Interior John Singer Sargent
Venetian Interior
Venice the Prison John Singer Sargent
Venice the Prison