Art: Tourist First Class

In New York, a major show of John Singer Sargent

Auguste Rodin called John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) the "Van Dyck of our times." Sargent was the unrivaled recorder of male power and female beauty in a day that, like ours, paid obsessive court to both. He could make old money look dashing and paint the newest cotton-reel magnate as though he were descended from Bayard. Sixty years after his death, his "paughtraits" (as Sargent, who kept swearing he would give them up but never did, disparagingly called them) provoke unabashed nostalgia. In his Belle Epoque sirens, in the mild, arrogant masks of his Edwardian gentry, are preserved the lineaments of a...

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