Reference Entry

Sargent, John Singer

in American National Biography Online


Published online February 2000 | e-ISBN: 9780198606697

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painter, was born in Florence, Italy, the son of FitzWilliam Sargent, a surgeon, and Mary Newbold Singer. Though born in Italy and raised abroad, Sargent considered himself American. Sargent’s parents were from Pennsylvania, and his paternal line included Epes Sargent of Gloucester, Massachusetts, whose portrait was painted by John Singleton Copley. Sargent’s early education consisted of a patchwork of tutors and short periods of attendance at local schools in Austria, Italy, England, and France. Recognizing her young son’s skill, Sargent’s mother, who herself painted in watercolor, taught him to use this demanding medium. A childhood friend, Violet Paget (pseudonym Vernon Lee), suggested in her 1927 essay, “J.S.S.: In Memoriam,” that Sargent’s painting gift came from his mother, who, she wrote, was invariably “painting, painting, painting away, always an open paint-box in front of her, through all the forty years I knew her” (Charteris, p. 235). Sargent’s cousins Emma Worcester Sargent and Charles Sprague Sargent noted in their 1923 history of the Sargent family that Mary Sargent instructed her son that he “might begin as many sketches each day as he liked, but that one of them must be finished” (p. 86). His mother’s instruction served as the basis for Sargent’s lifetime of disciplined, artistic production.

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