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Review of the Sargent & Fashion exhibition at Tate Britain




After having gained quite a bit of traction on social media because of its great popularity in Boston, the exhibition Sargent and Fashion finally opened in London at Tate Britain.

This was always going to be a successful show. Who doesn't like pretty paintings of beautiful people in attractive clothes, lingering around enjoying the luxury of doing absolutely nothing?

And truth be told the colours on the walls of the gallery are absolutely magnificent. No better way to show these paintings off than have them hang on these pretty coloured walls and next to the fashion from the period.



The exhibition gives the pretends as Singer Sargent the stylist, the dressmaker, the artist who was aware of and interested in high end fashion.

However, to me this exhibition actually shows off Sargent as the artist interested in the painterly effect of fabrics and glamourising poses.

As the artist obsessed with examples of great artists from the past and how to project yourself into the world of the powerful as an outsider.



He was of course an outsider himself. An American in Europe, who had never lived in one place for long.

This gave him the advantage of having seen the paintings of his heros like Frans Hals and Velazquez. However, it meant he was never quite part of the world of affluence and high privilege that he painted.

So his portraits really are one of three kinds: the one he paints of his friends for his own enjoyment, the (not commissioned) portraits he made to show off at high profile exhibitions like the Paris Salon hoping to gain commissions, and the formal society commissions.

Although the exhibition does not make that distinction it is interesting to see how he practised his style on his friends and used his trained eye for his society portraits.


You only need to visit this exhibition with a young person, experienced with making flattering photographs of themselves and their friends, to realise Sargent is like them.

He knows how to create a power pose, aggrandising a person by painting them slightly from below.

Or how to make them look more elegant and thin, painting them from above their eye level in a slight angle!


I don't think he was interested in the fashion per se, more in the possibilities of the fabric and the colours. Some of the dresses he asked his sitters to pose in didn't actually fit, had to be borrowed, or were completely made up by him.


And this is really when he is at his best if you ask me: when at the end of life's endless social obligations, his sitters collaps into a chair or the grass, sinking into their meters of luscious fabric of their beautiful dresses to enjoy a moment of peace!




Want to go prepared: Watch Cindy's talk on Sargent & Fashion as a replay here:




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