John Singer Sargent and the bTitanicb


Mar 20, 2007
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Of all the artists working at the turn of the century, none are more associated with the idea of a 'Gilded Age' than John Singer Sargent. As far as I am aware, he never painted a portrait of any of the first-class passengers - but there are still several connections between him and the 'Titanic'. Most significantly, he was a good friend of Frank Millet and the two spent summers together at the beautiful Worcestershire village of Broadway, with like-minded British and American friends, writing, painting and generally having a bucolic time. Sargent, to my knowledge, never painted Frank but he DID paint Mrs Millet and the resulting work is one of his most charming, glowing with a real sense of warmth and intimacy. I seem to recall there may have been a picture of one of the Millet children, too, and wasn't the idea for 'Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose' conceived in Millet's garden one summer evening? I think that Henry James also frequented the Broadway circle but I have never encountered any documentary evidence that he and Millet were friends (although I'm prepared to state with almost 100% certainty that they were familiar with each other). What does puzzle me is that I've never seen any mention in the extensive literature on Sargent to his continued friendship with the Millets, up until 1912. I'd be interested to see if Sargent (one of my very favourite artists) made any reference to Millet's death on the 'Titanic' in his papers or if he condoled with Mrs Millet. Or had Sargent drifted apart from his former friends by this time? Such things happen easily, particularly when one of the parties is a world-famous and very busy artist - but I've never heard tell of any reason why there would be a sudden breach between the two men. Maybe somebody could enlighten me?

Sargent painted P.A.B. Widener at least twice and also George Widener's sister (or sister-in-law)...I've always considered it a real pity that Eleanor never sat for him.

Any more gleanings about Sargent and possible connections to the 'Titanic' would be gratefully received.
 
Apr 11, 2001
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It was Frank Millet's dear friend, Edwin Austin Abbey who introduced Sargent into Frank's famous Broadway colony in 1885. Abbey had so much in common with Frank- both men rising first to artistic fame as magazine and periodicals illustrators for magazines such as Harper's. Abbey stayed so frequently in Frank's East Bridgewater studio, he actually carved his initials over the bedroom door.

I have found no evidence to support any breach of friendship between Millet and Sargent. Both men were in such demand that their schedules would stagger most mortals. Sargent painted Frank's sons John Alfred Parsons and Lawrence (1892, 1897). The oil portrait of young John sold about 7 years ago for over one million dollars.
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Apr 11, 2001
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Master Lawrence Millet by Sargent
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Frank's third son, Edwin died tragically at a tender age from diptheria. Frank was devastated by the loss. His children took after their glorious mother in looks to be sure.
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Carnation Lily, Lily Rose is a most amazing work. It was the cover of the catalogue from the extraordinary Sargent portrait exhibit about 5 years ago at Boston's MFA. It is a very large canvas of Frank's garden indeed. The Japanese lanterns in the work positively GLOW as if electrified. I had to go within inches of the canvas to believe the technique of colorwork on those lanterns

This sketch is one of Franks' funny caricatures of Sargent painting this very work.
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Mar 20, 2007
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Thanks Shelley, that is really great. I can well believe that Sargent's portrait of Millet's son sold for over $1,000,000. In fact, I'm rather surprised it didn't fetch more. Just as in his own day, Sargent's works have a very obvious appeal to the super-rich.

Re-reading my original post, I should really have said that Millet, as well as Sargent, was world-famous and very busy. Deluged with commissions and with appointments on both sides of the Atlantic, both men must have 'missed' each other with some regularity!

Millet is a character I plan to become more intimately acquainted with. Of all the first-class passengers, it is he - sophisticated, urbane, as comfortable in European Society as he was in American - who could have stepped fully-formed from the pages of a novel by Edith Wharton.
 
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The most complete bio of Millet has been written by Peter Engstrom- it is pending publication. When I saw the manuscript, I gave up all hopes of ever topping it with my humble effort. It remains for me but to sing Frank's praises wherever I go. As was said about Archie Butt, "He was a man this country could ill-afford to lose". To me, Frank was and will be- pure genius.
 

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