John Singer Sargent
1856-1925 | American
How They Met Themselves
John Singer Sargent was among the most successful artists of his era. By the late 19th century, he was the most admired and sought-after portraitist across both Europe and America, and he was uniquely capable of conveying the style and elegance of the gilded age. While he is best known for his painted portraits, the artist excelled in various genres and media, but undoubtedly the rarest works of Sargent’s oeuvre are his sculptures. Although he completed very few sculptures in his career, Sargent demonstrated a meticulous devotion and enthusiasm for the medium, as expressed by the present bronze entitled How They Met Themselves.
Sargent began pursuing the art of sculpture beginning late in the 1890s. Although portraiture had brought him success and international acclaim, Sargent endeavored to find new inspiration around the turn of the century, proclaiming that he had “firmly decided to devote [himself] to other branches of art.” He expanded more and more into landscapes and figural works with a narrative quality.
The composition of this bronze is based on an iconic watercolor painting and drawing of the same title by the Pre-Raphaelite master, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Sargent was a long-time admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites, Rossetti in particular. Rossetti’s own images of women were marked by a sensuality that served as an aesthetic inspiration to Sargent, and, according to his friend and biographer, Evan Charteris, Sargent kept an engraving of How They Met Themselves in his studio. Rossetti’s work depicts the dramatic moment two young lovers in medieval dress meet their supernatural counterparts in the woods, portending their deaths.
Saturated with poeticism, Sargent’s figures evoke the grand romanticism of the Pre-Raphaelites; their dramatic poses and solid modeling are a clear ode to his source image. For this work, Sargent wished to translate Rossetti’s superb two-dimensional modeling into a sculptural form. He greatly respected Rossetti’s technical ability, stating, “That is the difficult thing to do, anyone can paint, but to design a group so that it will — well, do in sculpture — that’s what counts. Rossetti could do it.”
Born in Florence to American parents, Sargent began his formal art training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence in 1871. In order to advance his education, the burgeoning artist moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts from 1874 to 1878 under the great Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran. After a somewhat tumultuous start on the Paris art scene, the attention his work garnered at the Salon propelled Sargent to great success, and he exhibited there regularly. He quickly drew the attention of society’s elite, making Sargent one of the most fashionable and respected portraitists of the era. In addition to oil paintings, he also executed a number of watercolors, rapid charcoal portrait sketches he referred to as “Mugs,” and, of course, a select few sculptures, including reliefs for the rotunda of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
As Sargent only began taking an interest in freestanding sculpture later in his career, they are incredibly rare, and this un-editioned series has only three other known examples. Another bronze casting of the present work resides in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, underscoring its importance. Art historian Helen A. Cooper, an expert on American art who curated an exhibition of Sargent’s sculptures for Yale University Art Gallery in 2001 has said, “I feel sure that had he lived longer, Sargent would have made the full transition from painting to freestanding sculpture.” How They Met Themselves represents a fascinating aspect of the artist’s oeuvre that few have seen and a sought-after rarity in terms of Sargent’s works.
Early 20th century
8 5/8" wide x 6 3/4" deep x 11 3/4" high