Friday, January 10, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent, an American painter I haven't investigated before, Sun in Capricorn type too, born 12 January 1856 in Florence, Italy, to American parents. His father was an expatriate Philadelphia surgeon, his mother from a wealthy Philadelphia family. The Sargents were based at various times in France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. John learned to speak four languages, studied art in Florence, Dresden, Berlin and finally Paris, where he launched a career in portrait-painting for the wealthy classes and rulers of Europe. The artist didn't visit the USA until age 21, after which he was commissioned to paint portraits of members of the American elite also. He settled in London in 1886, is best known for his studio portraits, but on his many travels also experimented with sketching and produced some lovely water colours.

John Singer Sargent had no romantic back story of struggle and poverty, no scandals to speak of, apart from a bit of a stir made by certain elements of Parisian society over his Portrait of Madame X.
The painting was criticised as being too erotic, due to a strap of the subject's gown, in the original version of the paining, having slipped down over her bare shoulder. The horror of it! It was after this "scandal" that the artist relocated to London, England.

 Portrait of Madame X

Sargent was said to have been a private man, industrious, turning out consistently excellent work. Some snips from a biography of the painter from a piece HERE highlighting traits which might find reflection in his natal chart, later in this post:
It has been claimed by (the artist's biographers) Elaine Kilmurray and Richard Ormond: "The impression that emerges from descriptions by his sitters is of a vigorous, decisive, and driven artist. There are stories of Sargent's rushing to and from the easel, totally absorbed, placing his brushstrokes in gestures of absolute precision, of the cries of frustration as he rubbed out, scraped down, reworked, and grappled with the problems of representation, cries punctuated by his mild expletives... Occasionally, he would dash to the piano and play as a brief respite from painting. He was single-minded about what he wanted to achieve and would brook no interference - an approach born of professional self-belief rather than personal arrogance, from which he was remarkably free. He insisted on the right to select his sitters' costumes and accessories, and took brisk exception to comments from his sitters and their families about the truth of the likenesses and characterizations he created."

Cynthia Asquith claims that he was a "curiously inarticulate man, he used to splutter and gasp, almost growl with the strain of trying to express himself; and sometimes, like Macbeth at the dagger, he would literally clutch at the air in frustrated efforts to find, with many intermediary ‘ers’ and ‘ums’, the most ordinary words." Vernon Lee, a very close friend, added: "He was very shy, having I suppose a vague sense that there were poets about… I think John is singularly unprejudiced, almost too amiably candid in his judgements… He talked art and literature, just as formerly, and then, quite unbidden, sat down to the piano and played all sorts of bits of things."

Evan Charteris, author of John Sargent (1927), has written: "He read no newspapers; he had the sketchiest knowledge of current movements outside art; his receptive credulity made him accept fabulous items of information without question. He would have been puzzled to answer if he were asked how nine-tenths of the population lived, he would have been dumbfounded if asked how they were governed."

And from HERE
Traveling was Sargent’s natural state. .......he didn’t like being tied to his studio, so in the first decade of the 20th century, he played hooky by usually spending August to October traveling in Switzerland, Italy and Spain with a small circle of family and friends (including fellow painters).

He is said to have possessed a huge appetite and became corpulent in middle age. In 1925, at age 69, Sargent died in London, without having married or left behind any known descendants.

This doesn't strike me as one of the most obvious fits of a natal chart to an artist. From descriptions of Sargent's personality in quotes above he sounded rather Virgoan to me. Virgo might be his rising sign, I suppose. His Venus in Sagittarius matches his need for travel: "travelling was Sargent's natural state", that's a good fit.

I think Pisces Moon (it would be in this sign unless he were born in the last breaths of 22 December)with Neptune and Jupiter in Pisces too - the sign's traditional and modern rulers - accounts for a lot, including his creative talent and rather absent minded approach to current events, maybe even his apparent inarticulateness. Not sure on that though - Mercury in Saturn-ruled Capricorn, along with Saturn in Gemini, might impede mind-to-tongue co-ordination. I can attest to something akin to this, having Mercury in Capricorn myself, but not Saturn in Gemini. I feel far more articulate in writing than in speech (others might suggest I'm articulate in neither, and I would not dare to argue).

Sargent is described also as being "very shy". This affliction, too, could be related to Saturn in Gemini.

There's a "Yod" (Finger of Fate) linking a sextile between Uranus and Neptune at 16 degrees of Taurus and Pisces to Mars at 12 Libra, and his Vertex point. Taurus and Libra are both Venus-ruled signs - Venus is planet of the arts. There is emphasis on Venus and Venus-ruled signs, Pisces and the sign's rulers throughout the chart...creative, arty, soft-feeling. Capricorn Sun and Mercury contrast this with an overlay of a harder more taciturn facet in his nature, his traditional realist art style, and his professional portrait painting with close connection to the upper-classes.

Examples of his work:

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw

 Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Theodore Roosevelt

 Gassed (See HERE)

 Sketches of detail for Gassed, above

El Jaleo

 In a Levantine Port


 A Bedouin Arab

 Escutcheon of Charles V

 Ethel Smyth (chalk drawing)

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mike said...

I've always appreciated Sargent's artistic gift. I'm particularly fond of his landscape and garden watercolors. I'm not a fan of portraiture, but he executes them with expertise. He was obviously an intellectual, as his Wiki page states, "highly literate and cosmopolitan young man, accomplished in art, music, and literature." Worldly, too, with his vast travels.

I like the Warhol quotation from Wiki ( and agree with him:

"In 1986, Andy Warhol commented to Sargent scholar Trevor Fairbrother that Sargent 'made everybody look glamorous. Taller. Thinner. But they all have mood, every one of them has a different mood.' In a Time Magazine article from the 1980s, critic Robert Hughes praised Sargent as 'the unrivaled recorder of male power and female beauty in a day that, like ours, paid excessive court to both.'"

It always seems strange to me that fellow artists can be so cruel in their critiques of each other and Sargent didn't escape the remarks for his Victorian Realism as the styles became more modern toward the final decades of his life. It didn't seem to slow him down, though!

mike (again) said...

Running errands today and not much time until's been way too cold, then when it warmed, drizzle and more drizzle. Today is our first day of sun for a long time now.

I wanted to say that his reticence may be due to the mutual reception of Mercury-Saturn in quincunx aspect (discord, adjustment, stress), which you allude. His Sun is disposited by this quincunx, mutual reception, too, yielding a reserved ego that is probably very self-focused...I get the feel that he wouldn't care if he related to others...either you get him or don't. All of his other planets are disposited by Jupiter and Neptune in their home of Pisces. I think this would give him a jovial personality within his personal circle of friends and intimate relationships...he would be larger-than-life in some respects. An odd imbalance between outer reserve and inner a Pisces way. I would think the heavy Jupiter-Neptune influence would push his artistic expression, specially with the moon there, as well. The moon can represent "mother" and his mother was an artist, and was his initial instructor.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I prefer his paintings to those of some of the really "big name" painters, they have a less pretentious feel about them for me.
I'm always in awe of any artist who can put a person's facial likeness on paper/canvas, though really the only one's truly interested will be the subject and their family and friends. I like the last of the bunch I posted - the chalk drawing.

He was an interesting mix.

Thanks for your additional thoughts on his natal chart. Yes, I doubt he cared a lot what others thought. He was what is termed today "his own man" (daft expression if analysed though).

We have a much milder, breezy day here, after a misty damp morning. 60-ish, and even better tomorrow so they promise. Let's hope that was the last we'll see of polar vortices until next winter!

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, in London, Sargent lived at 31 Tite Street and had his studio at No 33, next door to the Oscar Wildes at No 34. At some time, No 33 also served as the studio of Whistler.
This article illuminates the possible cause of Sargent's taciturnity.

Twilight said...

Sabina ~ Hi! thanks for the link.
Yes, interesting article, and a non-astrological indication as to why such a talented and well-travelled guy was known by many as taciturn and tongue-tied. The stifling and uncompromising Victorian London atmosphere could do that to a person I feel sure. Makes one wonder why he decided that London was a better base than an allegedly much looser Paris (in spite of the Madame X thing). Business I guess - more potential for portrait commisions.