A girl and her brother looked directly at me, their stares inviting me to step into a room they were in. So I did.
I was roaming the Metropolitan Museum of Art, killing time on a summer night, when I noticed the siblings who are the subjects of a painting entitled Pailleron Children (1880), by American portraitist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). In this painting, the young girl, Marie-Louise, sits on a chaise-like lounge, staring straight ahead, Her brother, Édouard, sits on the opposite side. He looked over his shoulder at me with similar interest.
The painting was displayed in the first gallery of an exhibition called “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends.” I didn’t plan to attend the exhibit, but the siblings’ seemingly personalized gazes, as well as my fondness for Sargent’s work, drew me in.
The exhibit features nearly 100 paintings and drawings. Sargent made his name as a portraitist of high society European, but also created non-commissioned paintings of fellow artists, actors, musicians, authors and his other friends. They are the subjects of these paintings. The images I included were the most photo-worthy of the exhibit.
In Madame Ramon Subercaseaux (1880), a young woman turns in her seat at a piano, one hand resting on its keys. The red flowers on her chest and in her hair, as well as the light blue flower box and rug, colorize an otherwise black-and-white scene. She gave me a relaxed look.
Mrs. Hugh Hammersley (1892) features a woman in a flowing, velvety pink dress seated on a French sofa, one hand reaching for its backrest. She looked right at me and smiled.
To add some perspective to this blog, I included an image of an exhibit-goer observing, Dr. Pozzi at Home (1881). The portrait depicts Sargent’s friend, a tall, dark-haired and bearded man sporting a bright red robe. Unlike the previous portraits, though, his head is turned as he looks off into the distance.
An Out-of-Doors Study (1889) shows a fellow artist, French painter Paul Helleu, in the act of painting on a canvas, his wife, Alice, lying at his side on a marshy landscape with a cherry wood-colored canoe. Although their faces are downcast and somewhat obscured, I snapped a photo of it for its earthy tones.
Lastly, I included Sargent’s most recognizable (and scandalous) painting, Madame X (1883-1884). An American-born Parisian socialite named Madame Pierre Gautreau, Sargent captures her as aloofly turns her head away from her onlookers and admirers. She serves as a great contrast to the other paintings.