John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women

During a recent family vacation, my son and I stopped by Cooperstown, NY and visited the Fenimore Art Museum. Before getting into the great show, museum, and paintings, I would like to do a little promo for Cooperstown.

It happens to be one of those places that just driving through makes a person consider moving. With a beautiful lake, Rockwell like town, and Catskill mountain landscapes that still hold the presence of the Hundson River School, I could easily picture myself living in this nearly perfect town (to bad it's in the middle of nowhere making family and friends to far . . . perfect place for an art colony or commune though!).

Back to the Museum: The Fenimore's collection includes American and New York historical fine and folk arts, including works from the Hudson River School, collections from the Cooper family, various portraits and life masks of historical figures, and a large collection of American Indian art.

 Rosina Ferrara, head of a Capri girl 1878, Oil on paper, 13 x10 1/4

The reason for my visit was the 23 paintings and drawings in their current exhibition entitled "John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women". Sargent has always been one of my top four painters (the exact order switches almost daily) and the more Sargent I see, the more impressed and passionate I become.

Lady Eden, 1906 43 x 34 1/2

I cannot stress enough the pleasure and necessity there is in seeing paintings first-hand. I think this current generation is deluged by digital media, and that we are really missing a key part of art when we see these paintings only through our computer screens. To my personal guilt, I have yet to see first hand the works of artists I consider the masters of today. I'm sure I would learn and be invigorated so much, that my own painting would greatly prosper. I tend to think of it like this: if I can see and study paintings through pictures, I will gain knowledge, if I can see them first hand (and if I'm lucky, even touch the paintings), then it will become personal and a true learning experience, and last, if I could ever earn the privilege to paint with those artists I would become a part of that creation, which will directly influence and change me.

Mrs. Abbott Lawrence Rotch, 1903, 56 3/4 x 36 1/4

I was not permitted to take photos of the paintings, so the majority of the images you see are off the web. Because of that, I can't show any great detail, but I can convey some of what I read in the exhibition catalog.

 Resting, 1875, 8 1/2 x 10 9/16

One thought provoking idea within the catalog was the idea that the late 19th century American and European societies were intrigued by more ethnic regions and their people. In the works of Sargent, the people of Spain, Morocco, Middle East, and Southern Italy fit this niche. I find it really interesting that the world at that time thought that Madame X was crossing the line and even extremely provocative while beautiful dancing Spaniards, a nude Egyptian women, and naked men and boys lying on the beach were then and even now hardly ever mentioned. Is this because she was the same race as those making these conclusion? did they view the other paintings as more documentaries on the world, like a national geographic magazine?

 Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) 1883-84, Graphite on paper, 9 3/4 x 13 3/16

The majority of the catalog highlights the history behind each of the paintings, and marries them with Sargent's youth, schooling and travels. It's a great complement to the exhibition, both during the viewing of the actual paintings and as a memento for my shelf. Definitely worth the $25.

 This is my super man telling his mom all about the exhibition (to be completely honest, he was more excited about the path, field, and lake behind the gallery, but he did talk about the paintings a little.)

To see a large gallery of Sargent's work, go to

One last note about Cooperstown, if you didn't know it already, it's the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.