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No study in depth has been made of Sargent's frames so far.What follows is a revised version of a text written before the major Sargent exhibition shown at the Tate Gallery, Washington and Boston in 1998-9; pictures are indicated by their number in the accompanying exhibition catalogue by Elaine Kilmurray and Richard Ormond.
Further archival documentation is becoming available as Ormond and Kilmurray's catalogue raisonné is published; Ormond and Kilmurray propose a sustained study which will be published in later volumes of their catalogue.Sargent evidently took a strong interest in the framing of his pictures, but then this was something of a necessity for any portrait painter.His formative years as an artist were spent in Paris where he trained under Carolus-Duran.He moved to London in 1886 and achieved great success as a portrait painter, so much so that from 1898 he could command the very sizeable fee of 1,000 guineas for a full length.In 1907 he announced his intention to retire from portrait painting as a business.Henceforth he focused on his landscapes and mural paintings while continuing to paint a few portraits in oil, generally as favours for old patrons and friends.
To satisfy the wider demand for portraits he resorted to charcoal drawings in the form of head-and-shoulder sketches which he could dash off in a couple of hours.In his later years he spent much of his time on his decorations for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.Sargent was a man of diverse experience, widely travelled and at home in Paris, London or New York, more cosmopolitan than any other English or American portrait painter of his generation.Our knowledge of Sargent's role in picture framing is incomplete. But more often than not he chose to use modern frames, albeit generally in revival styles.It has been claimed recently that Sargent's involvement in framing extended to the provision of a precise description for a new frame if an antique frame was not being used; not enough is known, however, about the process to support a generalisation of this sort.(note 1) What is clear is that Sargent played a significant part in the process by which a patron came about a frame.