Our Trip To The Art Institute Of Chicago

Karin Art Institute

Saturday finally arrived it was time head over to the the John Singer Sargent exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we walked three short blocks to the museum and quickly took our places in line. Having a membership definitely made a difference in that museum members were admitted a half hour before the general public and that gave us a lot more time to take in the artwork before the masses made their appearance (we HATE crowds in museums). Upon our admittance, we of course immediately made a beeline for La Carmencita:

Carmencita John Singer Sargent

Given the difficulties of taking pictures in museum conditions, here’s an “official” version:

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John Singer Sargent, La Carmencita, 1890

Born Carmen Dauset Moreno (1868 – 1910), Carmencita was a Spanish dancer who rose to prominence in both America and Europe and it is said that Sargent met her when she performed at the Exposition Universelle in 1889 and he was entranced with her. In a subsequent meeting in New York in 1890, he persuaded her to pose for this portrait. Here’s a close-up:


Looking at the portrait in person, the dress seemed to be more of a light, almost lemon yellow but this might have been due to the lighting more than anything else. Other pictures show the dress with orange tones. The specific details of the dress are somewhat abstracted, almost a blur in places, and suggests constant motion- according to one account, Carmencita was a restless sitter so Sargent had to work quickly. But for all that, the portrait is stunning and definitely shows a counterpoint to the society portraiture that Sargent was known for.

Image result for john singer sargent art institute catalog

John Singer Sargent (January 12, 1856 – April 14, 1925)

The next painting that caught our eye was this 1892 portrait of Mrs. Hugh Hammersley:


And the “official” version:

Mrs. Hugh Hammersley, John Singer Sargent (American, Florence 1856–1925 London), Oil on canvas, American

John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Hugh Hammersley, 1892

The one key element that drew our attention is the color of the dress- a saturated red. But even more striking is how the dress reflects light and the whole effect suggests a deep silk velvet. Framing the dress is swirl of gold trim running along the hems, upper bodice, and sleeve cuffs. As with La Carmencita, the dress details are abstracted and lacking in detail- here, the sum is greater than the parts. Here’s a close up:

John Singer Sargent

Looking at the portrait closely, you can see a variety of red shades and tints, the effect is amazing. 🙂

The next picture to catch our eye was this 1897 portrait of Mrs. George Swinton (Elizabeth Ebsworth):


And for the “official” version:

John Singer Sargent, Mrs. George Swinton, 1897

This one is definitely shades of pink and in contrast to the other ones, this portrait is more about the sitter- it just reads pure attitude. Interestingly enough, although she came from an upper class background, she insisted on pursuing a singing career and successfully did so for a number of years. Also, interestingly enough, this portrait also features in the satiric picture painted by Norman Rockwell in 1966 entitled “Picasso vs Sargent:”

One final highlight that we found striking was this 1898 portrait of Miss Daisy Leiter (sorry for the crooked picture):


John Singer Sargent, Miss Daisy Leiter, 1898

In this portrait, Singer captures the swirl and slow of the dress fabric, giving it a sense of motion. The sitter’s expression goes a long way towards giving this portrait a sense of youthful energy and life and once again, it’s more a matter of the sum of the parts having more impact than individual elements. Finally, there were a lot of exquisite works on display, both as part of the specific exhibition and the Art Institute in general and for us, it was definitely worthwhile attending. It was definitely inspiring. 🙂

Adam Art Institute



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