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The Black Brook

black brook.jpg

John Singer Sargent - The Black Brook (c.1908)


The girl seated in the foreground of this painting is the artist's niece, Rose Marie Ormond (1893–1918), daughter of Mrs Francis Ormond and later wife of Robert Michel. She appears with her sister, Reine Ormond (Mrs Hugo Pitman), in another painting ‘The Brook’ in the possession of Mrs Francis Ormond's second son Mr F. Guillaume Ormond in July 1961 (information from Mr Hugo Pitman, 18 July 1961), where they are dressed in Oriental costume. The site in both pictures is almost identical, a mountain stream at the Chalets de Purtud, near Courmayeur, Val d'Aosta, just south-west of Mont Blanc and almost 5,000 ft. above sea-level.

The Tate painting has also been known as ‘The Brook’, but there is ample evidence to show it was the work exhibited at the N.E.A.C. in 1909 as ‘The Black Brook’, and it was purchased with that title in 1935. An old label on the stretcher reads: ‘J. S [torn] The black brook, a girl seated by a stream Bought New English Art Club Exhibn 1909 Cleaned 1924 [rest torn].’ Descriptions of this painting which appear in the press-cuttings of the N.E.A.C. exhibition make it clear that the Tate picture is the one referred to. Its date is most likely to be 1908, not 1909, since it was the artist's custom to travel abroad in the late summer or early autumn, and the 1909 summer exhibition of the N.E.A.C. opened (according to an annotated catalogue in the Gallery archives) on the 22 May.

Madame X


Madame X or Portrait of Madame X is the title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of the French banker Pierre Gautreau. Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent. It is a study in opposition. Sargent shows a woman posing in a black satin dress with jeweled straps, a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. The portrait is characterized by the pale flesh tone of the subject contrasted against a dark colored dress and background.

The scandal resulting from the painting's controversial reception at the Paris Salon of 1884 amounted to a temporary set-back to Sargent while in France, though it may have helped him later establish a successful career in Britain and America.

John Singer Sargent - Vernon Lee (1881)


Vernon Lee was the pseudonym of the writer Violet Paget (1856-1935), best known for her books on Italian Renaissance art. Sargent had known her since childhood when their families had been neighbours in Nice, and she remained a friend all his life. This portrait sketch was painted in a single session lasting three hours. Sargent gave it to her, writing on it through the paint 'to my friend Violet'.

From the late 1870s Sargent was amongst those artists trained in Paris who made Impressionism an international style, blended with the technique and attitudes of old masters such as Velasquez. In this sketch his free brushwork makes for a brilliant illusion, and suggests the ambiguity of this author who adopted a male name.


Tate - Gallery label, August 2004