Madoff et Moi
26 November 2010
John Baxter at the Library
31 January 2011

Portraits of Expatriate Experience

Professor Peter Gibian will be with us on Wednesday, December 8th at 19h30 to talk about John Singer Sargent and his Portraits of Expatriate Experience.



John Singer Sargent, A Hotel Room, 1905

Here is a sneak peak of the presentation, written by Peter Gibian:

LIVING OUT OF A SUITCASE: Sargent’s Expatriate Experience

‘Bons baisers de Montréal! Last spring, that nasty volcanic ash prevented me from bringing my slides to the ALP . . . but I have fingers crossed that I will actually be able to make the trip this time.

‘I’m really looking forward to discussing my favorite John Singer Sargent images, next Wednesday, in Paris—where Sargent got his major training, made his astonishing rise to prominence at the Salons, and did some of his best, most experimental work . . . until the great “scandale” of his 1884 “Madame X” painting sent him off to England where he settled for a long, more safe career centered on glittering society portraits. Those portraits open an evocative window into the now-bygone life of Gilded Age aristocrats, but I think Sargent is most intriguing and relevant today for his work in a very different vein: his prescient expression of the felt experience of the expatriate international traveler—not embedded in a closed, static world but always on the move between worlds—anticipating the new possibilities and also the problems of our own increasingly global, interdependent, inter-national, perhaps even post-national, lives.

sargent mme x

‘For me, Sargent is a fascinating example of a seemingly paradoxical type: the Cosmopolitan American. (Is that an oxymoron? I will argue that it is not.) Born in Italy to American parents who had become nomadic international wanderers, schooled in a number of cities throughout Europe, and speaking multiple languages with native fluency, Sargent struck many who met him as “an accidental American,” or, even, as un-American—in fact dangerously lacking the solid ground of attachment to any nation, culture, language, or people. His family moved so often that they never bought furniture; and Sargent himself lived out of his suitcase in cramped hotel rooms for many days of his life as he traveled to an endless series of exotic locales in search of new subjects. The result? A strangely hybrid cultural identity that could make him seem a new sort of “cosmopolitan” figure—not at home everywhere but in fact homeless.

‘To begin to flesh out a sense of Sargent’s personal experience as a lifelong expatriate traveler, I want to look closely at a few of his most compelling early portraits of expatriate Americans (Madame Gautreau [“X”] and the Daughters of E. D. Boit) and then turn to a series of resonant non-portrait works that Sargent produced in Brittany, Venice, Spain, Capri, and North Africa, exploring his response to the local workers and artisans he encountered in his international wanderings. (For me, the 1880-82 pictures of workers on Venice’s dark back streets are among Sargent’s best.) My strong sense is that he was attracted to these local figures as foreign reflections of his own self-image and aesthetic engagements. And I’m looking forward to hearing your responses, over “refreshments,” at the ALP next Wednesday!’

At the Library, we are looking forward to welcoming Peter Gibian and hope that he will have a safe journey, no volcanic ash in sight!

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