John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent was an American painter by birth-right. 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.

Madame X, 1884, oil on canvas, 234.95 x 109.86 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan.

Madame X

He was born in Florence, to American parents  and traveled extensively throughout Europe. His parents never settled back in America, not stepping foot in the States himself until right before his 21st birthday to retain his citizenship.

He was schooled as a French artist, heavily influenced by the Impressionist movement, the Spanish Master Velazquez, the Dutch Master Frans Hals, and his teacher Carolus-Duran . He was the darling of Paris until the scandal of his Madame X painting at the 1884 Salon. 

Discouraged at the rejection, even considered leaving art at the age of 28, he left Paris and settled (if that word could ever be used for him) in England where he reached the height of his fame. To be painted by Sargent was to be painted by the best.

The Daughters of Edward D. Boit

Although England would be his home, he never stopped traveling and he never stopped painting. To describe Sargent is to say that he painted.  It was his life and yet he had a deep appreciation for music and all art forms and went out of his way to promote other artists — for this selflessness he was greatly loved.Extremely bright, extremely gifted, an intense hard worker, he was the last great generalist. It is hard to put a label on him for he could master so many different painting styles. He was an Impressionist, a Classical Portraitist, a Landscape Artist, a Water Colorist, a Muralist of public art, and even started sculpting at the last of his life. He was all of these things and yet he was none of them in total. 

He once said that the knowledge of a technique for an artist, such as Impressionism, “does not make a man an Artist any more than the knowledge of perspective does — it is mearly a refining of one’s means towards representing things and one step further away from the hieroglyph”.

He is often passed by, not studied, or dismissed because he was never a radical artist or trend-setter. He always worked within the wide, rich textured pallet of known and established styles. Yet his brilliance was in fusing these elements together and for this he has never fully gotten credit.

His output was prodigious. Working dawn til dusk in some cases — even on vacations, and sometimes seven days a week. Between 1877 (when his work really started taking off) and 1925, he did over 900 oils and more than 2,000 watercolors along with countless charcoal sketch-portraits and endless pencil drawings. 

He painted two United States presidents, the aristocracy of Europe, the new and emerging tycoons and barons of business — Rockefeller, Sears, Vanderbilt; and he painted gypsies, tramps, and street children with the same gusto and passion. He hiked through the Rocky Mountains with a canvas tent under pouring rain to paint the beauty of waterfalls, and painted near the front lines during World War I to capture the horrors of war. He painted the back alleys of Venice, sleeping gondoliers, fishing boats and the dusty side streets of Spain. He painted opulent interiors and vacant Moorish Ruins.  He painted the artists of his time — performers, poets, dancers, musicians, and writers —  Robert Louis Stevenson, and Henry James. He painted the great generals of the Great War, and the Bedouin nomads in their camps.  He painted grand allegorical murals, and his friends as they slept. 

And he painted   . . . .

Where others kept journals, John Singer Sargent painted his, and his life can easily be chronicled by these records in color and canvas. He loved people, yet was intensely private. And he loved his family deeply and devotedly, though he never had a family himself (was childless and never married). He was simply, a great man and a great Artist.

David Alfaro Siqueiros

David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974), one of the great Mexican mural painters, introduced technical innovations in his murals and easel paintings.

David Alfaro Siqueiros was born in Chihuahua. He was educated at the National School of Fine Arts, Mexico City, and did further study in Spain, Italy, and France. He served as an officer in Venustiano Carranza’s army (1910-1916) and as military attache;in Paris (1917).

The People for the University. The University for the People., 1952–56

As one of the artists who collaborated in painting the murals for the staircase at the National Preparatory School, Mexico City (1922), Siqueiros became one of the founders of the mural movement in Mexico. He served as secretary general of the Painters Syndicate and became one of the editors of its publication, El machete. With Amado de la Cueva he organized the Alliance of Painters in Guadalajara in 1925, and there he worked with De la Cueva and Carlos Orozco on decorations for the University of Guadalajara. Siqueiros served as a representative of various workers’ organizations to Russia in 1928 and as a delegate to workers’ meetings in South America in 1929. In 1931 he was exiled to Taxco for political reasons.

David Alfaro Siqueiros, For the Complete Safety of all Mexicans at Work (detail), 1952-4

David Alfaro Siqueiros, For the Complete Safety of all Mexicans at Work (detail), 1952–54

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Portraits (Monument to the Mural Painters of Mexico) detail

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Portraits (Monument to the Mural Painters of Mexico)

 

Siqueiros was a professor at the Chouinard School of Art, Los Angeles (1932-1933), where he developed new technical processes for outdoor murals, including the use of airbrushes to apply paint. Beginning in 1934 he devoted himself more and more to easel painting and carried out various experiments with Duco paint, for example, Echo of a Scream (1937).
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Siqueiros was a delegate from the Congress of Mexican Artists to the Congress of Revolutionary Artists in New York City in 1936, and there he established a school in which he set forth his revolutionary artistic ideas. In 1937 he joined the Spanish Republican Army. From 1939 to 1944 he resided in Cuba and Chile.

Despues De La Grand Tormenta

The principal works by Siqueiros in Mexico City are the Trial of Fascism in the Electrical Workers Union building (1939), Cuauhtmoc against the Myth in Sonora No. 9 (1944), New Democracy in the Palace of Fine Arts (1945), Patricians and Patricides in the former Customs House (1945), Ascent of Culture in the National University of Mexico (1952-1956), and Future Victory of Medical Science Against Cancer in the Medical Center (1958). His best-known mural outside Mexico City, Death to the Invader, is in Chill Chile (1941-1942).

From 1960 to 1964 Siqueiros was imprisoned by the Mexican government for the crime of social dissolution, but later he completed a mural commissioned by the Mexican government at Chapultepec Castle. In 1969 he spoke at the First National Painting Contest, in which some 7,000 artists from all parts of Mexico participated.

His next major work was The March of Humanity on the Congress Hall of Mexico City, one of the first buildings ever built specifically to house a mural. Incorporating different materials and methods, it united architecture, sculpture, and painting in what was called a baroque and futuristic extrapolation of realism. In 1968 he became president of the Academy of Arts in Mexico City. A retrospective of his work was shown at the Center for Inter-American Relations, and a three-dimensional mural was permanently installed in the Siqueiros Center in Mexico City.