Man Wearing Laurels

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Man Wearing Laurels

United States, 1874-1880
Paintings
Oil on canvas
unspecified (Canvas): 17 1/2 × 13 3/16 in. (44.45 × 33.5 cm) Frame (Framed): 24 1/4 x 20 x 3 1/2 in.
Mary D. Keeler Bequest (40.12.10)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Sargent executed several studies of male nudes, which were probably painted during or soon after his student years at the private atelier of Carolus-Duran....
Sargent executed several studies of male nudes, which were probably painted during or soon after his student years at the private atelier of Carolus-Duran. While Man Wearing Laurels is a bust-length study, a more elaborate painting of perhaps the same man wearing laurels, A Male Model Standing before a Stove, late 1870s (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), indicates that the figure is a professional model posing in a studio. French academic training extolled the human form as the major vehicle of expression. Usually the student was forced to develop his draftsmanship through meticulous drawings. Only after gaining a command of the human figure was the student permitted to use paint. Carolus-Duran was considered a radical in his methods because he encouraged his students to merge drawing with painting. He emphasized tonal painting as the means to construct form and stated, "Search for the values.... Establish the half tints (la demiteinte) as a basis, then a few accents and the lights" (quoted in Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the Late John Singer Sargent, exh. cat., 1925, text by J. Templeman Coolidge, p. ix). Following these tenets, Sargent built up the model’s face by applying lights and darks to convey the sense of three-dimensionality, reserving the strokes of the brightest flesh tints for the nose and chin. Sargent’s strokes are swift and sure, without concern for minute details or surface finishing. The shadowy light, reminiscent of Spanish painting, not only boldly contrasts the model’s chest and face but softens the image.
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About The Era

After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris....
After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris. By the late nineteenth century the Paris Salon was the most important exhibition space in the Western world. Artists from many nations would submit their best works to its annual exhibition. The honor of being accepted presaged an artist’s future success. Thousands of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper were presented at each Salon; the exhibition halls were so crowded that paintings were hung to the ceiling with sculptures scattered about. To be hung “on the line” (at eye level) meant a work of art ranked among the best in the show. Since a painting might be skied (hung near the ceiling), many artists painted on a large scale to ensure that their work could be seen no matter where it was placed.
Contrary to earlier periods, American painting in the late 1800s was no longer dominated by a single aesthetic. Munich-school paintings—narrative scenes, often based on literature or history and painted in a dark palette—as well as small figure paintings in the realist tradition were popular in both France and the United States. Large portraits represent the academic style that dominated official taste during this era. Bright, sun-drenched scenes by a more progressive group of artists, the impressionists are diametrically opposite in color, mood, and concept to muted tonalist and symbolist works. Whereas the impressionists celebrated contemporary life with all its transformations, the tonalists and symbolists created hazily illuminated, dreamlike imagery.
Sculptures range from academic examples of idealized mythological imagery to expressions of the newer interest in the emotive potential of the human form. Equestrian bronzes by Frederic Remington demonstrate that at the turn of the century there was a continuing enthusiasm for heroic depictions of the West despite the increased internationalism of American taste.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • LACMA: Obras Maestras 1750-1950: Pintura Estadounidense Del Museo De Arte Del Condado De Los Angeles. Mexico, D.F.: Museo Nacional de Arte, 2006.