Among the many friends sketched and painted by him, and now seen in this exhibition are, William B. Yeats, poet, Henry James, writer, Auguste Rodin, sculptor, Claude Monet, impressionist painter, William Booth, actor, and Robert Louis Stevenson, writer.
The oil on canvas c. 1887 portrait of Claude Monet (1840-1926) in the exhibition was presented to the National Academy of Design in 1897 as his diploma work. Sargent had been collecting Monet’s works since 1887 and it is generally assumed that this portrait was painted at Giverny, France, during the summer of that year when he and their mutual friend August Rodin visited Monet.
One of the most striking pictures in the exhibition is Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose an oil on canvas dated 1885-6. In 1885 he saw what he described as ‘a paradisiac sight’ while on a boating trip on the Thames – two little girls lighting paper lanterns at dusk in the rose garden. The painting you see here is the result of that vision and the accompanying catalogue to the exhibition points out that it is unusual in that it incorporates several aesthetics, French Impressionism, English Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism while the flower imagery references the paintings of the Italian Renaissance.
The literary historian, translator and critic Edmund Gosse was also painted and his portrait is displayed here but it is his portraits of Robert Louise Stevenson that are most striking. Sargent knew Stevenson in his early years in Paris but the two portraits on view here were painted in Stevenson’s house in Bournemouth, Dorset and show him in what is said to be a characteristic manner, striding across the middle of his living room and talking. This was done in 1885 when Treasure Island had made him a success