We speak of John Sargent as the master psychologist among portraitists, a superiority he himself has never assumed; but that magnificent virtuoso, an aristocratic Frans Hals, never gives us the indefinite sense of things mystic beneath the epidermis of poor, struggling humanity as does Eugène Carrière.
He was occupied exclusively with painting; he lived more than twenty years longer than Lawrence, and was never diverted by the claims of society upon his time. With his healthy, English color, recalling Reynolds, a sober style not devoid of charm, he is fairly typical of his time; and may fitly close this brief review of the earlier English portraitists.
Although there is a scattered collection including the names of Van Dyke, Guido Reni, Tiepolo, Ribera, Velasquez, Goya, and Turner, on walls A and B, the important thing is the fine collection of the English portraitists. Here are examples, many of them among the finest, by Hogarth, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Romney, Lawrence, and Hoppner.
But it is perhaps in portraiture that the eminence of these painters is most explicit. They are at the head of contemporary portraitists, at all events. And their portraits are almost defiantly real, void often of arrangement, and as little artificial as the very frequently prosaic atmosphere appertaining to their sometimes very stark subjects suggests.
If in that brilliant delineation the great lady shines with a somewhat theatrical majesty, the national object which she pursued is in no wise indicated a grave though natural omission on the part of a man in whom a passionate fondness for details almost always blinds him to the collective point of view, and who is not the first of portraitists only because he is the least reliable of historical painters.
Rapin is unmistakably one of the best Swiss portraitists, working for the most part in pastels, her medium by predilection; she has at the same time modelled portraits in bas-relief.
Thus Abraham Lincoln writes of himself as a patriarch, and no doubt sincerely thought that he was, at a time when he had just reached forty. The two features in Washington's face about which the portraitists differ most are his nose and his mouth. In the early portrait by Charles Peale, his nose is slightly aquiline, but not at all so massive and conspicuous as in some of the later works.
The Bowery Boy is cleverly represented, so far as dialect at any rate is concerned, by Mr. E.W. Townsend in his Chimmie Fadden. Even the Jewish and the Italian quarters of New York have their portraitists in fiction. Life in Washington has been frequently and ably depicted; for instance, in Mrs. Burnett's Through one Administration.
The Louvre is lamentably lacking in anything truly representative of this most eminent of all portraitists in sculpture, I think, not excepting even Houdon, if one may reckon the mass as well as the excellence of his remarkable production and the way in which it witnesses that portraiture is just what he was born to do.
Here are shown a number of canvases by the man generally considered the greatest living American painter-certainly the greatest of the portraitists. Though containing none of the really famous paintings, there are portraits which show the typical Sargent brilliancy-the swift sureness and the perfect balance of restraint and freedom. The James portrait is especially worthy of study.