The Sensual Sargent

Paul Fisher on the restless life of an American great

John Singer Sargent in his studio (Smithsonian
Archives of American Art)
John Singer Sargent in his studio (Smithsonian Archives of American Art)

John Singer Sargent is often thought of as a quintessentially American painter. Born in Florence in 1856, he shuttled across the Atlantic, painting society divas and wealthy eccentrics, Venetian gondoliers and Spanish dancers, imbuing each of his canvases with a sense of life and movement beyond the frame. But in his new biography of the artist, The Grand Affair, Paul Fisher, a professor of American studies at Wellesley College, delves into the hidden half of Sargent’s life—the portraits of male models and the romantic friendships with men that he kept hidden. Fisher joins Smarty Pants to discuss what Sargent has to offer the contemporary art lover, and how our understanding of his work changed in the intervening century.

Go beyond the episode:

A selection of the art discussed in this episode:

  • Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast (c. 1882–3), John Singer Sargent (Wikimedia Commons)

  • Mountain Stream (1912–14), John Singer Sargent (The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource)

  • Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) (c. 1883–4), John Singer Sargent (Wikimedia Commons)

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.

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Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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