One of the most remarkable artists in the Cedarhurst collection is John Singer Sargent, an American by birth, who lived his entire life based in Europe. Born in Florence, Italy to wealthy American parents, Sargent often traveled to America for commissions, but settled permanently in London.
Sargent was the preeminent society portraitist of his time who was famously scandalized by his painting of the well-known French socialite Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau. The painting, known as Madame X, was shown in the 1884 Paris Salon and was judged at the time to be provocatively erotic. The scandal socially embarrassed both the artist and his subject.
Nonetheless, the scandal did not in any way inhibit those who desired to be painted by Sargent. He had over 400 commissions for portraits during in his life. An exemplary work of Sargent’s elegance and refinement is seen in the triple portrait, The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant, 1899, oil, 9 feet 7 inches by 7 feet, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Interestingly, portraits were not the artist’s preferred genre to work in though Sargent excelled in them. He also enjoyed landscapes and murals. A famous mural is in the Boston Public Library titled the Triumph of Religion. Sargent worked on the mural for 29 years leaving it uncompleted at his death.
Sargent’s painting in our Cedarhurst collection is a landscape made while visiting the island of Majorca just off the coast of Spain. Sargent painted his sister Emily, and their friend Eliza Wedgwood, who accompanied Sargent on his trip to the island in 1908. Eliza is related to the famous 18th-century potter.
Eliza Wedgwood in her diary misnamed the scene describing it as “a wonderful picture of the blue pigs which scavenge in the magnificent ilex woods.”
John Singer Sargent, American, born Florence, Italy (1856-1925), Ilex Woods at Majorca with Blue Pigs, 1908, Oil, Gift of John R. and Eleanor R. Mitchell, 1973.1.54
Richard Ormond, a Sargent scholar who has researched the artist for over 30 years, has found alternate titles for the painting, including the one we know it by here at Cedarhurst, Ilex Wood at Majorca with Blue Pigs. Three other titles used with the painting include Ilex Wood with Blue Pigs and Exotics, Garden of Gethsemane, and Under the Olives.
The last one is pertinent as it names the very trees depicted in the painting. According to Ormond’s work, Sargent himself named the painting using Under the Olives.
Following tradition, we will likely continue with the title by which we have come to know the painting, but will going forward cite the artist’s own designation with his researcher’s fine scholarship.
To find precedent for such tradition, a fine example may be Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, for if you should find yourself in the Louvre looking for it, be sure and ask for it by the name it is known locally, La Joconde.