John Singer Sargent: The Male Nudes

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9780789302618: John Singer Sargent: The Male Nudes

Published on occasion of the major Sargent retrospective traveling to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1999, John Singer Sargent: The Male Nudes brings to light a fascinating portion of Sargent's work long hidden from the public eye.

Beginning in his adolescence, and throughout his distinguished career, John Singer Sargent, the celebrated painter of patricians, produced a superbly rendered, uninhibited book of work that was rarely seen and never exhibited: the male nudes. Models were a significant aspect of the great painter's profession, whether they were commission-producing society "sitters" or professional models used as reference for his three Boston mural projects or works created for his private enjoyment--one young Italian model stayed in the artist's employ for nearly twenty-six years. Sargent's enduring subject was capturing the "human form divine" in portraits of the fashionable and famous and the absolute male.

Over the last century, these little-known works have been dispersed to museum archives and private collections throughout the United States and Great Britain. John Esten has unearthed the most extraordinary of these images, ranging from vibrant watercolors and oil paintings to charcoal studies, published here for the first time in a single volume.

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Review:

The beauty and gentle eroticism of John Singer Sargent's paintings and drawings of nude males are the raison d'être of this otherwise somewhat slight book. Most are exquisitely languid, with such tender touches as a pink tinge on the buttocks of a boy lying prone on a beach in Capri, or two intimate "tommies"--privates in the World War I British Army--napping on a riverbank after a swim, heads together. Then there are a few nude wrestling matches, à la Eadweard Muybridge and D.H. Lawrence. And, as the author somewhat frantically insists, there are works that possess an "uplifting and spiritual aspect."

The wonder is that Sargent's sisters preserved these works--which the artist had kept private--after his death. They are thrilling, as much for Sargent's astonishing facility with a brushload of color as for the sensuous subjects. The essay may be skipped by readers who wince when informed that any subject of a society portrait by Sargent was "transformed into a fashionable denizen of the Edwardian age, whomever he was." Author John Esten sniffs prissily at the suggestion that Sargent may have harbored homoerotic feelings, while the works themselves often unabashedly focus on the genitalia of the models, and the ones that don't are filled with the kind of closeness and warmth of observation that makes the model's soft skin seem almost palpable. Linger over the book's 18 color plates, which are a lasting, luscious pleasure; the scores of black-and-white drawings are similarly inspired. --Peggy Moorman

About the Author:

John Esten created and designed many books including Man Ray/Bazaar Years, Manhattan Style, and Hampton Style. A former art director at Harper's Bazaar and L'Officiel USA magazines, he has been a special consultant to the Grey Gallery of New York University, as well as guest curator at the Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, New York, and the International Center of Photography, New York.

Donna Hassler is an art historian specializing in American drawing and sculpture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She was assistant curator at the Department of American Paintings and Sculpture of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and served as the acting director and curator of the Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, New York. Ms. Hassler is currently executive director of the Rennsselaer County Historical Society, Troy, New York. She is coauthor of the forthcoming book American Sculpture in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Artists Born by 1885.

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