March 25, 2010 / 6:41 PM / 9 years ago

New York's Fenimore Museum unveils Sargent's women

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, will exhibit portraits of women by American artist John Singer Sargent starting in May in what curators say is the first major exhibition of its kind.

“Portraits in Praise of Women” will be the first large-scale exhibition that draws together a substantial selection of Sargent’s (1856-1925) portraits of women, a central body of his work that is often overlooked, according to Paul S. D’Ambrosio, chief curator at the Fenimore.

“He (Sargent) loves women and he loved painting women,” D’Ambrosio said. “In his portraits of women unlike his portraits of men he uses much more fluid brushwork, much more scintillating highlights, he just relishes the process of painting these women.”

The exhibition will show 25 of Sargent’s women from May 29 through to the end of the year. The exhibition will appear alongside the Fenimore’s permanent collection of American Art housed in a scenic country home in Cooperstown, a small town about 200 miles north of New York City.

On display will be preparatory drawings for the famous Madame X, a provocative portrait modeled on Parisian socialite Madame Pierre Gautreau. The painting caused a scandal when it was unveiled in Paris in 1884, which eventually compelled Sargent to leave the city for London, where he went on to set up his main studio.

Other paintings in the exhibition demonstrate Sargent’s mastery of styles, through the grand tradition of classic portraiture to late 19th-century impressionism, a style Sargent developed through contact with French painters like Claude Monet, D’Ambrosio said.

“He didn’t just paint beautiful portraits, there’s a lot of tension within them,” said D’Ambrosio. “You see a tension between outward confidence and inner anxiety in these works as well, and that was noticed as early as 1903 by (writer and art critic) Charles Caffin, who said these are the product of an age of nerves.”

The Fenimore will host a complementary exhibition of women’s clothing called “Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace: A Century of New York Fashion.” The exhibition will include the oldest-known example of a dress with a label, as well as examples of Empire, Romantic, and Civil War-era dresses.

The Fenimore’s collections of Americana includes folk art, 18th- and 19th-century painting, American Indian art, decorative arts, historic photography, as well as memorabilia belonging to 19th-century American writer James Fenimore Cooper, who lived in the building with his family.

The museum will also exhibit a contemporary 30-foot totem pole by Haida artist Reg Davidson. The totem pole will go up on May 29 and will be permanently situated on the museum’s lawn.

Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Eric Beech

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