Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of George Augustus Moore > Text of Portrait By Mr. Sargent

An essay by George Augustus Moore

A Portrait By Mr. Sargent

Title:     A Portrait By Mr. Sargent
Author: George Augustus Moore [More Titles by Moore]

Mr. Sargent has painted the portrait of a beautiful woman and of a beautiful drawing-room; the picture is full of technical accomplishment. But is it a beautiful picture?

She is dressed in cherry-coloured velvet, and she sits on the edge of a Louis XV. sofa, one arm by her side, the other thrown a little behind her, the hand leaning against the sofa. Behind her are pale yellow draperies, and under her feet is an Aubasson carpet. The drawing is swift, certain, and complete. The movement of the arm is so well rendered that we know the exact pressure of the long fingers that melt into a padded silken sofa. But is the drawing distinguished, or subtle, or refined? or is it mere parade of knowledge and practice of hand? The face charms us with its actuality; but is there a touch intimately characteristic of the model? or is it merely a vivacious appearance?

But if the drawing when judged by the highest standard fails to satisfy us, what shall be said of the colour? Think of a cherry-coloured velvet filling half the picture--the pale cherry pink known as cerise--with mauve lights, and behind it pale yellowish draperies and an Aubasson carpet under the lady's feet. Of course this is very "daring", but is it anything more? Is the colour deep and sonorous, like Alfred Stevens' red velvets; or is it thin and harsh, like Duran? Has any attempt been made to compose the colour, to carry it through the picture? There are a few touches of red in the carpet, none in the draperies, so the dress is practically a huge splash transferred from nature to the canvas. And when we ask ourselves if the picture has style, is not the answer: It is merely the apotheosis of fashionable painting? It is what Messrs. Shannon, Hacker, and Solomon would like to do, but what they cannot do. Mr. Sargent has realised their dreams for them; he has told us what the new generation of Academicians want, he has revealed their souls' desire, and it is--_l'article de Paris._

The portrait is therefore a prodigious success; to use an expression which will be understood in the studios, "it knocks the walls silly"; you see nothing else in the gallery; and it wins the suffrages of the artists and the public alike. Duran never drew so fluently as that, nor was he ever capable of so pictorial an intention. Chaplin, for it recalls Chaplin, was always heavier, more conventional; above all, less real. For it is very real, and just the reality that ladies like, reality without grossness; in other words, without criticism. So Mr. Sargent gets his public, as the saying goes, "all round". He gets the ladies, because it realises the ideal they have formed of themselves; he gets the artists, because it is the realisation of the pictorial ideals of the present day.

The picture has been described as marvellous, brilliant, astonishing, superb, but no one has described it as beautiful. Whether because of the commonness of the epithet, or because every one felt that beautiful was not the adjective that expressed the sensation the picture awoke in him, I know not. It is essentially a picture of the hour; it fixes the idea of the moment and reminds one somewhat of a _premiere_ at the Vaudeville with Sarah in a new part. Every one is on the _qui vive_. The _salle_ is alive with murmurs of approbation. It is the joy of the passing hour, the delirium of the sensual present. The appeal is the same as that of food and drink and air and love. But when painters are pursuing new ideals, when all that constitutes the appearance of our day has changed, I fear that many will turn with a shudder from its cold, material accomplishment.

[The end]
George Moore's essay: Portrait By Mr. Sargent