Singer Sargent's sea paintings focus of UK show

Fri Jul 9, 2010 7:31am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - U.S. artist John Singer Sargent was best known for his society portraits of subjects ranging from European beauties to U.S. presidents, which earned him comparisons to 17th century Flemish master Anthony van Dyck.

But "Sargent and the Sea," a new exhibition of his works at London's Royal Academy, seeks to unveil a different side to the artist that curators believe has been overlooked for too long.

The show, which runs until September 26, examines the artist's experience as a marine painter and gathers more than 70 paintings, drawings and watercolors produced mainly during his travels around Europe as a young man.

"The extent of his engagement with marine subjects has only recently been recognized," said co-curator Richard Ormond, Sargent's great-nephew and an authority on the painter.

"The aim of this exhibition is to put the sea back center-stage, and to demonstrate what a large part it played in the evolution of the artist's style," he added in his introduction to the exhibition catalog.

Ormond said the recent discovery of three previously unknown Sargent seascapes, which all appeared on the art market in 2003 having never been exhibited before, underlined how, between 1874 and 1879, he was primarily a marine painter.

The largest, "Atlantic Sunset" dated 1876 and executed when Sargent was just 20, is described by Ormond as "a work of extraordinary sophistication for one so young."

The show, housed in the Royal Academy's smaller Sackler Wing, begins with Sargent's earliest experiments with marine art during a family holiday in northern France in 1874, including simple sketches of an octopus and starfish on a piece of paper.   Continued...