Expansive Exhibition of John Singer Sargent Watercolors Opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in March 2014

The Museum will be the final venue to offer this rare presentation of some of Sargent’s finest works in the medium

John Singer Sargent: The Watercolors is organized by the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

HOUSTON—January 16, 2014—In March 2014, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), will be the third and final venue to present John Singer Sargent: The Watercolors, an exhibition offering an unparalleled opportunity to view more than 90 early 20th-century watercolors by the Gilded Age American master John Singer Sargent (1856–1925).

John Singer Sargent: The Watercolors debuted at the Brooklyn Museum in April 2013, before traveling to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in October 2013. The exhibition will be on view at the MFAH from March 2 through May 26, 2014.

Organized by the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, this exhibition unites for the first time two significant collections of Sargent’s watercolors. The Brooklyn and Boston holdings were purchased in 1909 and 1912, respectively, directly from Sargent’s only two watercolor exhibitions in the United States, held at the Knoedler Gallery in New York. The exhibition focuses on these landmark acquisitions of contemporary art for the museums, which fulfilled Sargent’s wish for his watercolors to go as complete sets to single institutions. Representing Sargent’s departure from the commissioned cosmopolitan society portraits that made him famous, the compositions in John Singer Sargent: The Watercolors represent his immersion into the medium of watercolor and his focus on the subjects he loved, set against the backdrop of his travels across Europe and the Middle East. Sargent once said of his watercolors that they “give me pleasure to do and pleasure to keep.”

“This exhibition celebrates Sargent’s technical brilliance in watercolor, and the opportunity to present these two exceptional collections of his works in Houston is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” said Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “Following upon our exhibition of Sargent’s paintings in 2010, this is the ideal show to bring to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, at this time. I have no doubt that our visitors will prefer the luminous watercolors to his better-known paintings in oil.”

“By helping to bring this unique and vibrant collection of Sargent watercolors to Houston, we’re shining a spotlight on our city as the premier southern capital for the arts,” said Kim Ruth, Houston market and Texas state president, Bank of America. “While our long partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has increased access to the arts over the years, the caliber of this exhibition is not to be missed.”

Brooklyn’s watercolors were purchased en masse from Sargent’s 1909 debut exhibition in New York. Their subjects reflect Sargent’s personal interest in landscape and leisure, and include vibrant scenes of Mediterranean sailing vessels, intimate informal portraits and Bedouin subjects—executed during a 1905–06 trip through the Ottoman Levant. Among the Brooklyn works are Santa Maria della Salute (1904), a carefully wrought watercolor that explores in detail the features of one of Venice’s greatest churches; The Bridge of Sighs (c. 1903–04), a vigorously painted work that captures the action of gondoliers on the canal; Bedouins (c.1905–06), a watercolor of expressive force and coloristic vibrancy completed during Sargent’s travels in Syria; A Tramp (c. 1904–06), a portrait of a world-weary man notable for its intimacy and directness; Gourds (1908), distinctive for its dense brushwork and brilliant palette; and In a Medici Villa (1906), which reveals the artist’s love of formal Italian gardens and his eye for beauty in both expected and unexpected locations and angles.

The watercolors acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1912, were painted by Sargent with his Boston audience in mind and are more highly finished. They feature subjects from his more recent travels to the Italian Alps, the villa gardens near Lucca and the marble quarries of Carrara, as well as portraits, many of them beautiful images of women. Included are Corfu: Lights and Shadows (1909), which explores the colors and tones of sunlight and shadows cast on brilliant white surfaces; Simplon Pass: Reading (c. 1911), which highlights the artist’s affinity for luxuriant compositions of casually interlinked figures; The Cashmere Shawl (c. 1911), a work that matches the verve and virtuosity of Sargent’s grand portraits in oil; Carrara Lizzatori I (1911), a dynamic impression of the quarry; and Villa di Marlia, Lucca: A Fountain (1910), which captures the vibrant interplay of light and shadow around which these Baroque gardens were designed.

“These watercolors are full of joy and freedom,” said Erica Hirshler, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings, Art of the Americas. “They show an artist re-creating himself for a new century, rediscovering his creativity and his passion for making works of art.”

The exhibition will also feature nine oil paintings, including Brooklyn’s An Out-of-Doors Study, Paul Helleu and His Wife (1889) and Boston’s The Master and His Pupils (1914).

The culmination of a yearlong collaborative study by a team of curators and conservators from both museums, John Singer Sargent: The Watercolors explores the extension of the artist’s primary aesthetic concerns throughout his watercolor practice, which has traditionally been viewed as a tangential facet of his art making. New discoveries based on scientific study of Sargent’s pigments, papers, drawing techniques, paper preparation and application of paint will be shown in the exhibition.

Exhibition Schedule
The Brooklyn Museum, New York: April 5–July 28, 2013
• The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts: October 13, 2013–January 20, 2014
• The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas: March 2–May 26, 2014

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, John Singer Sargent Watercolors, copublished by the Brooklyn Museum and MFA, Boston Publications. Coauthored by the collaborative exhibition team, the volume includes essays by Erica E. Hirshler, Teresa A. Carbone and Sargent’s great-nephew and scholar, Richard Ormond, as well as chapters that expand upon the exhibition’s thematic framework.

Organization and Funding
John Singer Sargent: The Watercolors is organized by the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In Houston, generous funding is provided by:
Kinder Foundation
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hevrdejs
Mr. and Mrs. Meredith J. Long
Carol and Michael Linn
Mr. and Mrs. Ted Barr
Ann G. Trammell

Education programs for this exhibition are made possible by the Favrot Fund.

The national tour of the exhibition is made possible by:

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About the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH)
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, theater, two art schools and two libraries, with two house museums, for American and European decorative arts, nearby. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers some 65,000 works and spans the art of antiquity to the present.

About Bank of America
Bank of America’s commitment to corporate social responsibility is a strategic part of doing business globally, to deliver for shareholders, customers, clients and employees. Our goal is to help create economically vibrant communities through lending, investing and giving. We are focused on responsible business practices; environmental sustainability; strengthening local communities with a focus on housing, hunger and jobs; investing in global leadership development; and engaging through arts and culture.  Learn more about Bank of America’s global leadership in support for the arts at http://about.bankofamerica.com/en-us/partnering-locally/arts-and-culture.html and follow us on Twitter at @BofA_Community.

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