Man Wearing Laurels

Popped up on Pinterest this morning, this steamy painting by John Singer Sargent (Pinterest attends almost daily to my long-standing interest in Sargent’s works):

(#1) Sargent, Man Wearing Laurels (oil on canvas, 1874-80) in LACMA

To come: the LACMA curator’s notes on this painting; a comparison with a more famous charcoal sketch by Sargent (of a different model); and then some exploring into Pinterest’s source for the image in #1, the USEUM site (“an online encyclopedia of Art”).

The curator’s notes. From the LACMA site:

Sargent executed several studies of male nudes, which were probably painted during or soon after his student years at the private atelier of Carolus-Duran. While Man Wearing Laurels is a bust-length study, a more elaborate painting of perhaps the same man wearing laurels, A Male Model Standing before a Stove, late 1870s [reproduced at the end of this posting]… , indicates that the figure is a professional model posing in a studio.

French academic training extolled the human form as the major vehicle of expression. Usually the student was forced to develop his draftsmanship through meticulous drawings. Only after gaining a command of the human figure was the student permitted to use paint.

Carolus-Duran was considered a radical in his methods because he encouraged his students to merge drawing with painting. He emphasized tonal painting as the means to construct form and stated, “Search for the values … Establish the half tints (la demiteinte) as a basis, then a few accents and the lights”… Following these tenets, Sargent built up the model’s face by applying lights and darks to convey the sense of three-dimensionality, reserving the strokes of the brightest flesh tints for the nose and chin. Sargent’s strokes are swift and sure, without concern for minute details or surface finishing. The shadowy light, reminiscent of Spanish painting, not only boldly contrasts the model’s chest and face but softens the image.

Capturing the face. Compare the bust portrait in #1 with a facial portrait, the remarkable charcoal sketch of Olimpio Fusco (from 1900-10), discussed in my posting of 10/29/21 “Seven Faces” (by Sargent, among them a portrait of Carolus-Duran):

(#2)  More elegant steaminess (the full drawing, above, includes the model’s address and telephone number)

The USEUM site. #1 came to me not directly from LACMA, but via the USEUM page for the painting. USEUM began as Foteini Valeonti’s Ph.D. project Making art accessible with crowdsourcing at University College London; the “online encyclopedia” (of about 80,000 art works) is organized into a number of thematic collections, among them Identity and Diversity in Art History. The logo and description (by curator Liam Otero) for this collection:

(#3) Detail from In Vaudeville: Acrobatic Male Dancer with Top Hat (by Charles Demuth, 1920)

Until the late-20th and early-21st Centuries, the History of Art focused scholarly attention primarily on white, male, heterosexual artists. Consequently, the stories of innumerable artists across a spectrum of backgrounds were overlooked, erased, or forgotten. More efforts have been taken to expand the scope of who is included in the History of Art canon as art historians, art critics, and curators utilize their positions to transform the discipline into a more inclusive field of study. “Identity and Diversity” is a Special Collection that features the works of painters, illustrators, and printmakers who comprise an exceptionally diverse range of cultural identities. The collection will be divided into three main subsections that highlight the artistic contributions of Women Artists, Artists of Colour, and LGBTQ+ Artists. As a way to introduce today’s viewers to a rich selection of creative figures, this continually growing collection will represent diverse artists across all major and minor art movements, styles, and historical periods: from Dutch Baroque still-life painter Clara Peeters and African-American portraitist Joshua Johnson, to gay British-Jewish Pre-Raphaelite painter Simeon Solomon and Contemporary South Korean artist Myonghi Kang.

Otero’s description of the LGBTQ+ Artists subsection (where Sargent is to be found):

Explorations into LGBTQ+ Art History is a very recent development in the History of Art canon. Research in this area attempts to unearth how gender & sexuality is represented in Art and to acknowledge the prevalence of LGBTQ+ artists since Antiquity. It also considers how an artist’s sexual orientation influences their creativity and the content of their works. Previously considered a taboo topic, LGBTQ+ Art History has long endured censorship and rejection because of the erroneous assumptions made toward imagery that were labeled as lewd, scandalous, or inappropriate.

Historical and contemporary LGBTQ+ artists like the French Realist Rosa Bonheur and the English Contemporary painter David Hockney have since received worldwide recognition. However, long-popular artists traditionally associated with male heterosexuality like the landscape painter Winslow Homer and the Regionalist painter Grant Wood have been re-examined and are now regarded as major figures within LGBTQ+ Art History. Moreover, representations of homosexuality in art have been an area of research in which works by luminaries as diverse as the Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio to the French Realist painter Gustave Courbet are interpreted from a queer perspective.

The ideas and themes associated with LGBTQ+ artworks are inspired by or in response to a slew of historical events, contemporary trends, and literary, mythological, or spiritual references: oppressive laws that banned homosexual behaviour, the AIDS epidemic, and representations of sexual relations in Biblical narratives. It should be noted that LGBTQ+ art is not exclusively focused on artists whose works are overtly about gender & sexuality, as this category includes artists who identify as an LGBTQ+ individual and have created works in other subjects and genres.

The objective of this permanent collection is to expand the accessibility of LGBTQ+ artists and their works to international audiences. Similar to the Women Artists and Artists of Colour collections, this section will also feature artists with intersecting identities to further emphasize how one’s sexuality may be tied to their race, ethnicity, nationality, and gender. With an abundance of historical and contemporary examples, viewers will be able to develop a stronger understanding of the longevity of LGBTQ+ artists’ influence on artistic production and what images can communicate about gender & sexual relations.

And then, to close things out, the full-length portrait serving as companion to #1:

(#4) Sargent’s A Male Model Standing before a Stove (1875-80, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

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