The Grand Affair: John Singer Sargent in His World

Farrar. Nov. 2022. 496p. ISBN 9780374165970. $40. BIOG
John Singer Sargent was a mystery: an outgoing American painter and personage (who hobnobbed with the likes of Henry James, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Monet), about whose private life few details are known. Biographer Fisher (American studies, Wellesley Coll.; House of Wits) is uniquely qualified to delve into the artist’s life, having helped organize the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s 2020 exhibition Boston’s Apollo: Thomas McKeller and John Singer Sargent. As a portraitist, Sargent was known for teasing out the personalities of his elite subjects, which Fisher argues landed him high-profile commissions and made him a darling of the Gilded Age. This book also sheds light on Sargent’s loving relationships with his sisters and parents, his models, and his friends. Fisher suggests that Sargent, who was not out as a gay man, expressed his appreciation of the male form through his art.
VERDICT A sensitive biography that fleshes out the personal life of a private artist who was a product of his time. Fisher’s work complements and expands on previous Sargent biographies, including Stanley Olson’s comprehensive 1986 book John Singer Sargent: His Portrait.
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