• Carol Wiebe

The Price of Painting a Portrait

These John Singer Sargent quotes made me chuckle, especially considering the fact that he was a leading portrait painter of his era.

Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend.
A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth.

Then the quotes became more serious .  .  .  .

I have now got a bombproof shelter [the Continent] into which I retire when I sniff the coming portrait or its trajectory.

Portrait of Madame X ~ by

Portrait of Madame X ~ by John Singer Sargent


I hate to paint portraits! I hope never to paint another portrait in my life. Portraiture may be all right for a man in his youth, but after forty I believe that manual dexterity deserts one, and, besides, the color-sense is less acute. Youth can better stand the exactions of a personal kind that are inseparable from portraiture. I have had enough of it.

Sargent suffered through a “long period of critical disfavor.” These quotes certainly project self-abnegation. One hopes he had other, brighter reflections of his own ability, and was able to see himself beyond the opinions of others, however expert they might be.

I always try to learn something from other artists that I can apply to my own life and work. In this case, it seems Sargent may have spent a great deal of time doing something he loathed. This underscores the importance of doing what you love.

Many consider that advice to be impractical, pie in the sky, wishful thinking. For me, it is the difference between a mediocre life where one settles for what one has, and a vibrant life where one thrives and greets each day with anticipation. Having others enjoy my work is a wonderful adjunct to creating art I love, but if my joie de vivre depended on critical acclimation, I would question the authenticity of my expression. The world around me informs what I have to say but, ultimately, my art and writing come from within, from my own distillation of all that I experience.

The quotes don’t seem quite as funny now.

#JohnSIngerSargent #doingwhatyoulove #criticism #joiedevivre #portraits