Art: A True Visual Sensualist

Modernists once dismissed John Singer Sargent's society portraits. They were wrong

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was the last great society portraitist--the Van Dyck of his time, as Auguste Rodin was the first to say. Twenty years ago, to confess an admiration (however sneaking) for his work was to invite incredulity. Sargent? That flatterer of the Edwardian rich? That fat-cat holdover, that facile topographer of the social Alps, that living irrelevance to the concerns of modernism? But what goes around comes around. Sargent's reputation is back as though it had never gone away. Once again, if one can judge from the attendance at the Sargent show at the National Gallery of Art in...

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