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  • John Singer Sargent
    Jan 12, 1856 - Apr 14, 1925
  • Muddy Alligators - John Singer Sargent was an American painter by birth-right, and a leading portrait painter of his era. He loved his country yet he spent most of his life in Europe. He was the most celebrated portraitist of his time but left it at the very height of his fame to devote full time to landscape painting, water colors and public art.
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Muddy Alligators
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  • Muddy Alligators

  • John Singer Sargent
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  • 1917
    watercolor
    Worcester Art Museum, United States.

    Sargent was the foremost portraitist in London and the United States at the turn of the century, but by 1910 he undertook portraiture only rarely. During the preceding decade watercolor had become an important aspect of his production, and he frequently looked to this medium as a means for personal expression, a respite from the constraints of mural commissions and portrait painting. Muddy Alligators seems to have been such a diversion, painted to offset the frustration of a work in progress: a portrait of John D. Rockefeller at his patron's winter home in Ormond Beach, Florida.

    A seemingly unlikely subject for a fashionable painter, alligators caked with mud nevertheless presented a pictorial challenge that recurs in Sargent's oeuvre: the depiction of light and shadow on sun-drenched forms. This writhing, menacing mass of serpentine creatures evoked intriguing possibilities of surface and texture, to which he brought to bear the resources of his bravura technique. A number of preparatory sketches exist for Muddy Alligators: four graphite drawings, all of which the Worcester Art Museum owns, and two watercolors (in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Ormond Family Collection). This finished watercolor reveals a diversity of means: scratching into the paper to denote teeth, applying wax resist to suggest rough textures, and laying on broad brushstrokes to delineate tree trunks.

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Other paintings by John Singer Sargent:

Pressing the Grapes: Florentine Wine Cellar
Pressing the Grapes: Florentine Wine Cellar
Staircase in Capri
Staircase in Capri
The Brook
The Brook
El Jaleo
El Jaleo
John Singer SargentJohn Singer Sargent was a painter especially known for his fine portraits. He is usually considered an American artist, although he spent most of his life in Europe. Sargent was born in Florence, Italy to USA parents. He studied in Italy and Germany, and then in Paris under Carolus Duran.

His portraits are remarkable for subtly capturing the individuality and personality of the sitters; his most ardent admirers think he is equaled in this only by Velázquez. Sargent's Portrait of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), done in 1884, is now considered one of his finest works, but it aroused so much negative reaction in Paris at the time that it prompted Sargent to move to London.

Although Sargent spent less than one year in the United States, some of his finest work is there, especially his decorations for the Boston Public Library. Sargent is usually not considered an impressionist, but he sometimes used impressionistic techniques to great effect, and his Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood is beautifully rendered in an impressionist style.

Around 1910 Sargent largely abandoned portraits, focusing mostly on landscapes in his later years.

In an era when the mainstream of art was focused on Impressionism and emphasizing artistic individuality, Sargent emphasized his own form of Realism and regularly worked doing commissioned portraits of the rich. This caused him to be dismissed as an anachronism at the time, but appreciation of him as a great artist has grown since his death.