Sargent in Italy

Written by  Maria Luisa Pacelli
An exhibition explores the link between the American artist and our country.
John Singer Sargent was a cosmopolitan spirit. He always lived far from his own land, in the most important art cities of Europe. He was born in Florence in 1856, and throughout his life he returned repeatedly to Italy, which had a deep and lasting influence on him. Ferrara Arte has devoted a exhibition to him which explores the relationship of his painting to Italy.

His uninterrupted popularity is surprising. The reason lay in his ability to combine tradition and innovation: the modernity of some of his compositional solutions goes hand in hand with traditional subject matter, and in his portraits the official background is accompanied by a modern capacity for psychological insight.

Throughout his career Sargent demonstrated an extraordinary ability to adapt the tools of painting to his own expressive ends. Sargent's talent is evident in the collection of canvases produced on Capri and in Venice between 1878 and '82, in which the artist evokes the pagan atmosphere of the island and the sombre ambience of the city on the lagoon, in a refined language which contains echoes of contemporary French painting.
These paintings are contrasted with the landscapes produced in the Alps from 1900 to '14. Rooted in the romantic tradition, these works celebrate the sublime scenery and demonstrate Sargent's love of nature.

The views of the quarries at Carrara, in which the figures of the labourers stand out against the rocky surfaces, show the artist in the grip of a different kind of inspiration. The painter was under the spell of Renaissance and mannerist art, and these are celebrated in works which feature fountains, statues and architectural details, such as the Statue of Perseus by night.