John Singer Sargent, like many portrait painters, sought escape in landscape. ‘Autumn Leaves’ exudes technique and colour sense, the white dresses and hats counterbalance the profusion of green and gold autumn foliage. The picture exhibits a lushness and freshness without exploiting or overdoing it.
Sargent had a very international up-bringing and career.
In 1924 William Starkweather described Sargent as:
‘An American born in Italy, educated in France, who looks like a German,
speaks like an Englishman, and paints like a Spainard.
After studying with Carolus-Duran, he achieved a huge reputation for excellent portraiture. He had a close and mutually profitable relationship with Monet, visiting him at Giverny on several occasions and painting two portraits of him. He also encouraged Monet to exhibit in England.
Sargent liked to paint the glamour and opulence of high society with a lavish elegance and enjoyed great success at it. He moved from Paris to London in the wake of scandal created by his painting of ‘Madam X’, (Mdm. Gautreau). She was a strikingly recognisable society beauty and the work was considered far too provocative and erotic for the day.
He became the outstanding society portrait painter of his time, possibly the most envied figure of the Edwardian art world. Yet, despite his sophistication, charm and entre to high society, he remained a very private person, never married and led a quiet life. He died in 1925.
‘A portrait is a picture of a person with something wrong with the mouth’.