Monday, March 5, 2012

John Singer Sargent and Florence

John Singer Sargent 1856 - 1925

"Comandante Kelly" went to Florence this past weekend.  I always enjoy Florence; a new vista opens up each time that I revisit it.  This is the glorious city of the Medicis, Dante, Michaelangelo, Brunelleschi and so many more.  Florence is a riotous celebration of capitalism, food, wine and great art.

The Ponte Vecchio, completed in 1345, spans the Arno in Florence and is the home to many jewellery stores today.   This was the only bridge across the Arno that was NOT destroyed by the retreating Nazi forces in August of 1944.

Just off the Piazza Repubblica  (which I like to translate as "Republican Square") you will find the Savoy hotel.  In the "Incontro" bar at the Savoy you can order a very decent Vesper martini (See earlier post Commander Bond's London for recipe) -- "shakerato non mescalato." (’incontro-bar/)

Henry James by Sargent
The occasion for our visit was the opening of the Americans in Florence, Sargent and the American Impressionists exhibition at the Strozzi Museum (  The exhibition runs from March 2nd, 2012 through July 15th, 2012.  It includes works by Sargent, Winslow Homer, James McNeil Whistler, John LaFarge, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassat and many others.

John Singer Sargent was actually born in Florence in 1856 to American parents who were expatriates.  He became the most sought-after American portrait painter on the late 19th century.  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."  He painted portraits of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Speaker of the House Thomas Reed, and the infamous Madame X (Virginie Gautreau) though these are not, alas, in this exhibition.  You will, however, find a portrait of Henry James, a self portrait usually found in the Uffizi and an interesting charcoal sketch of an architectural feature observed by the 14 year-old Sargent in Florence.
Mary Cassat's brother and nephew

You will also find a charming picture by Mary Cassat of her seated brother and nephew who appear to be in a European hotel room.

Many American artists were gravitationally attracted to Florence on account of its rich artistic heritage and its gorgeous landscapes.  It was part of the "Grand Tour" for aspiring artists and writers.  A trip to Florence could help burnish their reputations.

Commandante Kelly says, "Come to Florence and check out the Strozzi!"

At the conclusion of the exhibit you may notice a small bronze statue of Jessie Wilson, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson, done by American artist Bessie Potter Vonnoh. Which brings us to the fateful election of 1912...

Jessie Wilson
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