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John Singer Sargent

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In the Luxembourg Gardens, 1879

About the Artwork

Like many of his contemporaries, the American John Singer Sargent lived in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1870s, near the École des Beaux-Arts and the Palais du Luxembourg, which had one of the largest parks on the Left Bank, newly laid out with formal gardens, fountains, and sculpture. In this twilight scene by Sargent, a vast expanse of gravel, tinted mauve by the setting sun, isolates a fashionably dressed couple walking arm in arm. Preoccupied by holding up her skirt and clutching her companion's arm, the woman seems distracted, while the man dispassionately smokes a cigarette. The detachment of the couple is echoed by other figures in the garden, all absorbed in their own activities: sitting on a bench, reading a newspaper, or playing with a toy sailboat. Sargent painted a second version of the composition (Minneapolis Institute of Arts), which he kept for himself; the dome of the Pantheon is visible on the horizon in that picture, as is geographically correct. Curiously, the Philadelphia picture, which Sargent sold to an American collector and exhibited in New York in 1879, omits the Pantheon, perhaps out of concern that it would overwhelm the foliage and dwarf the low-hanging harvest moon. Jennifer A. Thompson, from Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art (2007), p. 192

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