The Price of Painting a Portrait

These John Singer Sargent quotes made me chuckle, especially considering the fact that he was a leading portrait painter of his era.

Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend.

A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth.

Then the quotes became more serious .  .  .  .

I have now got a bombproof shelter [the Continent] into which I retire when I sniff the coming portrait or its trajectory.

Portrait of Madame X ~ by

Portrait of Madame X ~ by John Singer Sargent

I hate to paint portraits! I hope never to paint another portrait in my life. Portraiture may be all right for a man in his youth, but after forty I believe that manual dexterity deserts one, and, besides, the color-sense is less acute. Youth can better stand the exactions of a personal kind that are inseparable from portraiture. I have had enough of it.

Sargent suffered through a long period of critical disfavor.” These quotes certainly project self-abnegation. One hopes he had other, brighter reflections of his own ability, and was able to see himself beyond the opinions of others, however expert they might be.

I always try to learn something from other artists that I can apply to my own life and work. In this case, it seems Sargent may have spent a great deal of time doing something he loathed. This underscores the importance of doing what you love.

Many consider that advice to be impractical, pie in the sky, wishful thinking. For me, it is the difference between a mediocre life where one settles for what one has, and a vibrant life where one thrives and greets each day with anticipation. Having others enjoy my work is a wonderful adjunct to creating art I love, but if my joie de vivre depended on critical acclimation, I would question the authenticity of my expression. The world around me informs what I have to say but, ultimately, my art and writing come from within, from my own distillation of all that I experience.

The quotes don’t seem quite as funny now.


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About CarolWiebe

Art entices, inspires, and delights me. Art is a vehicle for laughter, tears, wonder, enlightenment--taking me on a constant path of discovery. You can't say that about housework (except, perhaps, for the crying part).
This entry was posted in Artists, Carol's Art, Humour and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Price of Painting a Portrait

  1. tammy vitale says:

    oh! hear, hear! Awesome post! and yes, the world around us – inform – great; inspire – even better than great; dictate – not so good. Thanks for the reminder (and the great quotes – I was just chatting w/two commenters on my blog about perfection and imperfection for the artist. If we wait for pefection, we’ll never get to our real work, which is just to do the work!)

  2. Deb Sims says:

    Sounds to me like John needed a good dose of “put on your big boy pants and deal with it!” His work is exquisite, I would die happy if I had a minor portion of his talent. He did have the choice to paint something else if that was his desire and if painting portraits was his bliss then it would have been nice if he could have developed some sort of take it or leave it attitude toward his critics. So often we don’t listen to our hearts and just keep on doing something just to please those around us. It doesn’t work–not in the long haul. All it does is sap our creative energy and drag us along a rut. Of course there are always extenuating circumstances–rent to pay, groceries to buy, etc. but somewhere in the necessary mundane there must be a balance of equally necessary bliss, doing what makes our heart sing–OUR heart, not someone else’s. I fight this imbalance constantly but I see that it can be done! By the way, I think this painting of Madame X was the one where he originally painted her strap falling off of her right shoulder. It was deemed “inappropriate” so he moved it to quiet the criticism. I think I liked it better falling off!

  3. Didn’t painters during this time do portraits as a means to pay the bills? It could’ve been his era’s version of ‘this is my day job, so I can have food and shelter’. But I so agree with you that it is vital to pursue what you love! I don’t understand people who are driven by money towards a passionless career. It seems they always end up burnt out and miserable. As always, a thoughtful post that makes me ponder! :~)

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