An artist indelibly associated with the opulence of the late 19th century and a paragon of painterly virtuosity, John Singer Sargent was born on January 12, 1856. An expatriate his entire life, Sargent was raised in Paris by parents descended from some of New England’s earliest settlers. He established his career in London, where he gained worldwide renown for his large-scale portraits of moneyed clients.
What is perhaps his most famous painting was certainly his most scandalous—and now one of the most famous works in The Met collection (top). Working without a commission, Sargent captured the daring vivacity of the Parisian socialite Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau—and shocked the Salon of 1884 by portraying the strap of his subject’s gown slipping down her right shoulder. He later repainted that passage of the canvas, before selling the work directly to The Met some 30 years after he painted it. He requested that the Museum keep his sitter’s identity anonymous—and the work has been known as Madame X ever since.
Active almost until his death in 1927, Sargent produced a prolific body of work that is well represented in The Met collection. He has been the subject of major exhibitions, and remains a favorite of visitors (and of The Met Store) to this day.
Mr. Sargent: Happy birthday to you.