John Singer Sargent RA (1856-1925) was the most celebrated portrait painter of the Edwardian age. He spent most of his life in Europe, although throughout his life he remained fiercely proud of his American birthright. Born in Florence, his childhood was spent travelling with his wealthy cosmopolitan parents who encouraged him to paint from an early age. His talent was later noticed and nurtured by Carolus-Duran who introduced Sargent to the Parisian art scene.
In 1885, Sargent caused a scandal when he painted Madame X, a sensual portrait of Mme Gautreau, a noted society beauty. He fled Paris and over the next five years he used his new found freedom and colourful social network to his advantage. This period of development and maturity coincided with his blissful days in Broadway, a quiet Cotswold village that had been ‘discovered’ and ‘colonised’ by various wealthy artistic Americans. Sargent lived with his fellow compatriot artisans and pursued a routine with plenty of work and plenty of play. It became an immensely inspiring and informative time for Sargent, who was fast becoming recognised and admired in the most exclusive of circles.
It was whilst Sargent was staying with Francis D. Millet at Farnham House on Broadway’s village green, that he embarked upon his most celebrated painting, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, the title lifted from the light-hearted lyrics of a popular song. The painting is a triumph of Sargent’s use of light which would never be equalled in quite the same way. It is a true example of Impressionist en plein air painting, which took numerous sunsets to complete and even during its conception provoked much discussion, amusement, involvement and encouragement from his circle of friends. Once completed it was very quickly acquired for the nation by the Tate, where it has been celebrated and revered ever since. Sargent was elected a full member of the Royal Academy in 1897. During his lifetime he was a prolific painter in both oils and watercolours and his work hangs in major collections throughout the world.