We are lucky that Sargent (along with Monet and so many of their artist contemporaries) lived in a time of hand-written letters, many with sketches included, revealing interesting insights into their lives. A recent exhibition titled “Your Sincerely, John S. Sargent” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston included a selection of correspondence, drawings and photographs by and about John Singer Sargent, including fifteen letters exchanged between Sargent and his good friend, Claude Monet. It is the result of the new John Singer Sargent Archive established by the Museum and made possible by two large gifts of letters and photographs from Sargent’s grand-nephew and his wife, Richard and Leonée Ormond and from the art dealer Warren Adelson and his wife, MFA Overseer Jan Adelson. They have been compiling the works for thirty years.
The letters in the collection give us a valuable window into Sargent’s daily life and the friendship between two of the most formidable artists of the day. Looking at their works from the 21st century, it is hard for us to imagine their insecurities about their work and the influence each took from the other in their paintings, but their correspondence gives us a glimpse of how they struggle with their own styles and how to paint in a way that was true to themselves.
Sargent to Monet in 1887 (after moving to England worrying about not exhibiting in the Salon in Paris that year):
“I deeply regret that I shall have nothing for the Salon, because I really do not want to be forgotten in Paris. It would upset me if I were considered a poor idiot, who has ceased to exhibit there to make a statement . . . . I beg you, if you hear from our friends that I am a deserter or an ingrate, or that I am sulking, to contradict such nonsense.”
Sargent to Monet in 1889:
“I am still haunted by the memory of your most recent paintings, full of unfathomable things . . . I am fully aware that your work of the moment is surpassing that of all others and nearing perfection.”
It is believed that Sargent’s painting of Monet working en plein air – Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood (above), done in 1885, is showing Monet painting Pré à Giverny – Meadows with Haystacks near Giverny – evidence of the two friends sharing a painting outing near Monet’s home.
Although Sargent was the younger of the two (1856 – 1925), he died before Monet (1840 – 1926). Monet wrote: “We have lost an old friend. It is truly a sad day.”
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–John and Ann