I’ll have much more to say about “Sargent’s Women” after I see it again, but in the meantime I urge you to go straight to this eye-popping exhibition of portaits by John Singer Sargent, which just went up at Adelson Galleries (Mark Hotel, 25 E. 77th St., through Dec. 23).
Aside from being gorgeous to behold, “Sargent’s Women” sheds light on the inner life of an artist who is widely thought not to have had one. Next to nothing is known of Sargent’s romantic entanglements (if any), and as a result contemporary opinion seems to be divided between those who think him to have been asexual and those certain that he was homosexual. Be all that as it may, you can’t spend ten minutes walking through “Sargent’s Women” without feeling the fascination that women exerted on him–not just the darkly exotic ladies of Capri, but his own sisters as well.
For reasons all too obvious, at least to me, Sargent continues to be dismissed by many critics as a lightweight virtuoso who specialized in portraits of the haut monde at the expense of serious work. He was, in fact, an extraordinarily gifted painter who did far more than merely capture the pretty-pretty surfaces of his well-heeled subjects, and even if he hadn’t devoted at least as much time and energy to the watercolor landscapes that may well prove in the end to have been his supreme achievement, Sargent’s portraits would still require no apologies. Take a look at “Rosina” and “Head of a Venetian Women” (both of which can be seen on the gallery’s Web site). The artist who painted those canvases may not have been a ladies’ man, but he definitely knew a thing or two about women, and I doubt he learned it just by looking at them.
I want to say a quick word about Adelson Galleries, whose two floors are an eminently civilized place to look at turn-of-the-century American art, about which Warren Adelson knows as much as anybody in the world. He has a knack for putting together museum-quality shows, and “Sargent’s Women,” like “Maurice Prendergast: Painter of America” before it, definitely qualifies. Between this show and “Joseph Cornell: The 100th Birthday,” currently on display at Richard L. Feigen, I’d say it’s time you took a trip to the Upper East Side. Why not make it tomorrow afternoon? Or today, for that matter?