Exhibitions: Great Expectations: John Singer Sargent Painting Children

Genre Painting
The allure of mapping Sargent’s masterful painting techniques often overrides investigation of the content of his art. What is more, his fame as a portraitist has complicated the analysis of his work from the earliest years of his career because portraiture promotes interpretations based primarily on physical likeness and the facts of the sitter’s biography—and not necessarily on a network of ideas. The subjects of Sargent’s art, however, extended far beyond the boundaries of portrait painting and encompassed a broad spectrum of themes that can be seen in his mural paintings (essentially history subjects), watercolors, and a large body of oils featuring landscapes and figures. The last category is represented by a selection of genre paintings spanning nearly forty years of Sargent’s career; it shows anonymous people going about ordinary, day-to-day activities. On the assumption that Sargent was just as intent on conveying meaning as he was in perfecting the formal elements of his art, the paintings in this section are brought together to illuminate the ways in which he focused on childhood as a means to create content.

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