John Singer Sargent was born in
Florence, Italy, on January 12, 1856. His parents were Americans from
Philadelphia: Fitzwilliam, a physician, and Mary Newbold Singer
Sargent. After the death of their first child, Fitzwilliam and Mary
went abroad for a period of recovery that lasted the rest of their
The Sargent children were born and raised in Europe,
among a shifting community of fellow expatriates. The surviving
children (John, the oldest, along with his sisters Emily and Violet)
were basically home schooled, and John grew up learning the languages
of the many countries the family would call home. Both of his parents
were artistically gifted, so painting and drawing expeditions were a
natural part of his youth. Johns own artistic talents soon became
apparent, and his parents secured for him what additional education
they could, eventually moving to Paris when John was 16 to enroll him
in the atelier of the painter Carolus Duran. As both an American and
Durans youngest pupil, Sargent created a stir with his precocious
ability, and soon became his teachers favorite student. In a few years,
Sargent's first paintings were accepted for exhibition at the
prestigious annual Salon in Paris. His future success seemed assured,
at least until the scandal in the Salon of 1884 surrounding his
Portrait of Madame X, which played its part in moving him away from
Sargent eventually became the best known portrait painter
of his time, finding success and recognition both in England, where he
eventually settled, and in America, to which he made regular working
visits of some duration throughout his adult life.
Sargent shocked his public by announcing his retirement from portrait
painting, choosing to focus his vast energies on his landscape painting
and growing commissions for mural and decorative work. Many of his
upper-class would-be sitters refused to take no for an answer.
Therefore, in spite of his reluctance, some measure of portrait work
remained a factor in his life.
Awards were piled upon Sargent in
his lifetime, as well as numerous honorary degrees. He was a member of
the major art academies of the time, a teacher and a champion of other
artists and composers he considered of merit. He was also an
accomplished musician and, although known for his awkwardness in
public, entertained his close friends and family with boisterous
musical performances of his favorite operas, accompanying himself on
Sargent loved food, cigars, opera, theater and the
symphony, and he loved to paint. He never married, and left no diary.
He worked until the day he died. On April 15, 1925, after spending the
day helping to crate the latest installment in his Boston Public
Library mural series, Sargent died in his sleep at the age of 69.
changing art world inevitably left Sargent behind, but in time his
obvious gifts came again to be recognized, and his brilliant portraits
of an age now gone treasured once more.
The setting for the play is the artists studio in London on the evening of January 8, 1916.
Copyright notice: With the exception of a few historical photos in the public domain, all images and copy on this site are under the copyright of the artist, Bob Diven, or his clients. All rights reserved.