A remarkable painter! He was the favorite of Edwardian society, but at the height of his success as a portraitist in the “grand manner,” he gave it up. A very private man, sophisticated, yet also naive, dedicated to his art, his friends, and his family, but little else. So what?
He knew what he was. He moved in those circles, but he was not quite of them. Who knows what he really thought? He certainly was never ironic or satirical in his depiction of the rich and great. He never shared their anti-semitism either, doing some of his best work in portraits of the Anglo-Jewish financial and merchant kings, much to the chagrin of the Establishment.
With the advent of Modernism, and the self-conscious avant garde, his reputation went into eclipse, to be resuscitated later. Sample this from the great puritan – I do love him, though – Lewis Mumford (from wiki):
“Sargent remained to the end an illustrator…the most adroit appearance of workmanship, the most dashing eye for effect, cannot conceal the essential emptiness of Sargent’s mind, or the contemptuous and cynical superficiality of a certain part of his execution.”
Appearance of workmanship..? Alas, Lewis, I couldn’t disagree with you more.