John Singer Sargent

The Sargent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was an amazing collection of society portraits that captured the friends and fellow artists of Sargent’s time. As I walked around the Met I felt like I was flipping through the pages of People magazine, only from the late 1880s. The exhibition was the “Who’s Who” of Sargent’s world.

It was an amazing retrospect of Sargent’s portraits. I was very touched by Sargent’s sharing something of his sitter’s personality. The gesture of the body, the tilt of the head, the stance, each individual who became the subject of the portrait was painted for likeness but more importantly Sargent shared some aspect of the sitter’s personality of what he found intriguing.Beyond the name of the portrait, Madame X, Dr. Pozzi, Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, friends such as Vernon Lee, artists Raffele, Monet, the exhibition was distinguished by the range of the emotional inner life of the sitters. Portraits could have been titled, Strength, Passion, Warmth, Joy, Confidence, Arrogance, Vulnerability.

As we interact with each other with texting, tweets and email we distance ourselves from the emotional parts of each other that make us human to one another. Maybe that is what I found so attractive about this exhibition. I was able to experience what the emotional life of these portraits represented. I could look into their eyes (were they looking into mine?) and relate to the emotions portrayed.

Maybe this is another reason to whisk our children and students to the museums. These portraits, along with other portraits from other time periods, may help our children recognize emotions in others. The arts are becoming even more important as we distill our emotions to tweeted statements rather than through facial expression or body language. Music, theater, dance and art convey such universal themes of being human.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has created a series that can be accessed on-line called “The Artist Project.” It includes a series of short videos of artists sharing what they see when they look at a particular image or object at the Met. The Met has invited 100 artists local, national, and global to choose an individual work that sparks their imaginations. In this series artists reflect on what art is, what inspires them. Check out the series at their website  If you want another conversation about Sargent, portrait artist Kehinde Wiley speaks to the influence of John Singer Sargent for his work. Look for his video reflection from Season One.