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"Fashioned by Sargent": A Dazzling Exhibition of Art and Attire in Boston



John Singer Sargent Artwork

In the heart of Boston, a new art exhibition is capturing the attention of both art enthusiasts and fashion connoisseurs alike. The exhibition, titled “Fashioned by Sargent,” is a profound exploration of the interplay between fashion and portraiture in the works of the acclaimed American artist John Singer Sargent (1856–1925).


This remarkable showcase, organized in collaboration with Tate Britain, delves into the intricate relationship Sargent shared with his affluent clientele and their attire, offering a unique perspective on his creative process and artistic mastery.


Sargent, known for his striking portraits, was more than just a recorder of faces and fashions. He was a master at capturing the essence of his subjects, often influencing and altering their sartorial choices to better express their personalities, social statuses, professions, gender identities, and national backgrounds. This exhibition brings to light Sargent’s significant role in shaping his subjects’ images through the lens of fashion.


Upon entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted by approximately 50 paintings by Sargent, each a testament to his skill and vision. The richness of the fabrics, the elegance of the stances, and the sensuous strokes of paint breathe life into the portraits, making them more than mere representations. These artworks are complemented by over a dozen period garments and accessories, offering a tangible connection to the era and enhancing the understanding of the relationship between fashion and Sargent’s artistic practice.


One of the most striking aspects of this exhibition is the opportunity to view several of Sargent’s paintings alongside the actual garments worn by the sitters. This rare pairing provides a unique insight into Sargent’s artistic process and the importance of attire in his work. For instance, the iconic portrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth is displayed alongside her actual beetle-wing-encrusted costume, allowing visitors to appreciate the meticulous detail and realism in Sargent’s portrayal. Similarly, the portrait of Mrs. Charles Inches (Louise Pomeroy) is exhibited with her red velvet evening gown, showcasing the vibrancy and texture that Sargent so masterfully captured on canvas.


Among the portraits, visitors can find prominent figures such as Madame X, Lady Agnew, and Dr. Pozzi at Home, each a style icon of their time and a testament to Sargent’s ability to capture the fashion and spirit of the era. The exhibition also features the portrait of Graham Robertson, highlighting Sargent’s famous quote, “The coat is the picture.” This statement underlines the significance of dress in his work and his belief in the power of clothing to define a character.


“Fashioned by Sargent” is more than just an art exhibition; it is an immersive experience that invites visitors to step into the world of John Singer Sargent. It encourages them to consider not only the art of portraiture but also the ideas of curating and controlling one’s image. Through this exhibition, Sargent’s work is presented not just as a form of visual art but as a complex interplay of fashion, identity, and representation.



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