John Singer Sargent was an internationally renowned portrait painter. He was born in Florence in 1856, son of the American surgeon FitzWilliam Sargent. He spent his childhood studying painting in Italy and travelling across Europe, until he moved to Paris in 1874. In Paris he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where he received the traditional French academic training. He also studied at the studio of portraitist Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran (1838-1917), and remained there as both student and assistant until 1878. During 1876 and 1880, Sargent travelled widely during visiting America, Spain, Morocco and Haarlem.
His artistic style was influenced heavily by the teaching of Carolus-Duran. Carolus-Duran taught his students to focus carefully on the effects of light and atmosphere on objects in order to capture the essence of the real world in their work. He also encouraged careful study of Velazquez, which Sargent was able to do during his trip to Spain, and the influence of this great Spanish painter is apparent in Sargent’s treatment of light and dark.
His first exhibited work was a portrait of his mentor Carolus-Duran and was very well received at the 1879 Paris Salon. However Madame Gautreau, his entry into the Salon of 1884, was received badly and following this, in 1885, he moved to London permanently. Before settling in London, Sargent visited Sheffield in 1884 where he painted The Misses Vickers.
Sargent initially had little success in London, despite exhibiting work at the Royal Academy from1882. Throughout his life however, he remained an American citizen and it is in Boston and New York that his reputation as an international portrait painter first started to grow. A few years later the success he had achieved in America crossed the Atlantic to Britain, and his career began to flourish. He went on to become an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1894 and a full member in 1897. He also exhibited work at the Grosvenor Gallery and was a founding member of the New English Art Club.
In his later years Sargent moved away from portraiture and instead focussed on landscape painting, which had always been of interest to him. During the First World War he was given a commission as an official war artist and toured the western front. Towards the end of his life he spent most of his time on the murals for the Boston Public Library, which he had begun in 1891. John Singer Sargent died in London in 1925.