The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, holds the most complete collection of John Singer Sargent’s art—paintings, murals, watercolors, drawings, and sculpture. The inclusion of the John Singer Sargent Archive establishes the Museum as the center for Sargent scholarship. Through this personal and professional collection, the archive illuminates our understanding of this famously reticent and hardworking artist. Made possible by generous gifts from Warren and Jan Adelson and Richard and Leonee Ormond, the John Singer Sargent Archive is an active collection that continues to grow.
The collection contains correspondence written by Sargent, photographs of the artist at work, estate papers, biographical information, and other personal papers related to the life and career of this exceptional artist. Highlights include fifteen letters written by Sargent to the French Impressionist painter Claude Monet, a letter of appreciation written in the hand of Amélie Gautreau (the subject of the painting known as Madame X), and letters written by Sargent’s sister Emily that contain details of Sargent’s activities over the course of many years. Several letters are written to close friend and author Violet Paget (Vernon Lee) and to Walter Leighton Clark, with whom he cofounded the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City. Humorous and humanizing caricatures by fellow artists such as Henry Tonks and Max Beerbohm give us a sense of how Sargent was viewed within his trusted circle of friends. The Ormond Family papers contained within the archive offer an integral view of Sargent and his family.
Over time, more records will be made available online. A finding aid to the collection is forthcoming.
The John Singer Sargent Archive is available by appointment Tuesday through Friday, 10 am–Noon and 1:30–4 pm, in the Morse Study Room for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
To ask questions about the holdings or to schedule an appointment, please contact Kristin Parker, the John Singer Sargent Archives and Special Collections Archivist, at 617-369-3407 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please plan your visit three weeks in advance.
Do you have letters to or from Sargent, or photographs of the painter? Let us know!
To make a donation to the archive, contact email@example.com or 617-369-4047.
About John Singer Sargent
Born in Europe to American parents, John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) lived his life as an expatriate. He considered Boston to be his American home, maintaining many ties to the city and its people. Sargent held his first solo exhibition in Boston in 1888 at the St. Botolph Club, and he painted many of the city’s notable personalities—society leaders, artists, musicians, and collectors like Isabella Stewart Gardner. Major related works can be found at the Boston Public Library and at Harvard University.
The MFA has been committed to the artist, buying and commissioning work during his lifetime, including the ambitious Rotunda project, which began in 1916. After Sargent’s death, the museum presented many exhibitions, including a memorial exhibition in 1925, a centenary celebration in 1956, his first comprehensive retrospective in 1999, and the first display dedicated solely to his watercolor paintings in 2013. The MFA’s Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Gallery (Gallery 232), located on the second floor of the Art of the Americas Wing, is dedicated to Sargent’s art, featuring approximately 25 of his renowned paintings.
Sargent died in his sleep in London in April 1925, on the eve of his departure back to Boston. News of his death made the front page of the Boston Globe, declaring “Boston Claims Sargent, Great Master, as Her Own.”