Monday, October 19, 2020

The Whole Truth --- Day 9/186

Walk: Presidio Pickleball Courts                                                                                                   Distance: 5 miles, 1 hr. pickleball

John Singer Sargent, Henry James, 1913, oil on canvas

Ever wonder what the novelist Henry James looked liked?

Well, here you have probably the most accurate existing likeness of him.  Photographs exist, but the exquisitely skilled John Singer Sargent was relentless in his honest depictions of his subjects capturing bags, scowls as well as exacting intelligence (if it existed in the sitter) and spirit where Sargent could sense it.  

As you can imagine, this high artistic integrity was not always well received by clients who had become used to the prevalent and effective method of lopping off 20 years or so from the face. But from nearly the beginning of his career as an artist, popular opinion was of no consequence to Sargent.  Social aristocrats applied in droves for Sargent's portraits, and he thought nothing of turning down those of this ilk who did not interest him.  Whether they were pleased with the results or not, they were known to pay the unheard of sum of $50,000 (there is at least one known $60,000 payment) for the honor.  That's about $1.5 million in today's dollars.  Today Sargent's reputation as a portrait genius still stands, and several of those portraits grace museum walls in the States and Abroad.

And, yes, Henry James, Sargent's equal in the meticulous and truthful portrayal of the upper classes, loved his portrait saying that it “made him into a figure of great dignity without making him look too old.”  (It was a 70th birthday portrait commissioned by many of James's friends who implored Sargent to paint it).

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