Artist John Singer Sargent's strong interest in framing

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was one of the leading portrait painters of his generation. Sargent took a strong interest in framing his own portraits, which at the time was a necessity for any portrait painter. An American by parentage, born in Florence, his formative years as a painter were spent in Paris. He travelled widely, and was at home in London, Paris, and New York, endowing him with a cosmopolitan worldview that exceeded any other contemporary American or English portrait painter.

We have only a partial view of Sargent's involvement in the framing process. We know that he would often choose modern frames and occasionally antique frames. The following highlight some of Sargent's preferred frame styles.


Examples of Sargent's preferred frame styles

Sargent in his studio

Sargent in his Paris studio (c. 1883-4) with his Portrait of Madame X.

Sargent's celebrated work, Portrait of Madame X, caused a furor at the Paris Salon in 1884. It can be seen here in the artist's Paris studio, with a frieze of overlapping leaves in a detailed classical frame. This photo was taken shortly before its notorious reception at the exhibition. 


Whistler frame

Coventry Patmore (1894), in a Whistler frame.

Not all of Sargent's portraits were elaborately framed. Sargent's portrait of the renowned poet, Coventry Patmore has a simple flat-reeded Whistler frame. 


Spanish 17th century style frame

Sir Frank Swettenham (1904), in a 17th-century Spanish style frame.


Octavia Hill frame

Octavia Hill (1899), 17th-century Italian style frame.

Here's an example of Sargent's use of antique frames. Many of his antique frames exhibit signs of alteration to fit the painting, suggesting he typically selected the frame once the portrait had been complete. 


Italian 17th century style frame

The Misses Hunter (1902), detail of a Louis XIV style frame.

Sargent reserved his most elaborate frames for some of his grandest portraits. The painting shown above exhibits a group of the three Acheson girls at full-length, in a highly enriched Louis XIV frame.


Italian 17th century style frame

Field-Marshal 1st Earl Roberts (1906), 17th-century Italian style frame.


Narrow gilt moulding frame

Harley Granville-Barker (1900), detail of a narrow gilt molding frame.


C.M. May frame

General Officers of World War I (1922).


In his final years, Sargent time was taken up with decorating the Museum of Fine Arts at Boston. After a retrospective exhibition of his work in New York in 1924, he passed away in his studio the following April in London.

(Adapted from "John Singer Sargent and picture framing" by Simon, J.) 


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