The John Singer Sargent Archive at the MFA

The John Singer Sargent Archive is a treasure trove of records that add detail, context, and depth to our understanding of one of the 19th century’s most talented painters. Made possible by recent generous gifts and future promised gifts from Warren and Jan Adelson and Richard and Leonee Ormond, the Archive will grow over time to become an ever richer resource, accessible here at the MFA and online.

The John Singer Sargent Archive includes letters from Sargent to several correspondents, including 15 he sent to French Impressionist master Claude Monet that highlight their lifelong friendship. Another note, carefully written in a neat round hand, describes one portrait as a “masterpiece”—it is signed Amélie Gautreau, an appreciative sitter best known today as Madame X. There are other items in the Archive, too: caricatures of Sargent by friends and fellow artists Henry Tonks and Max Beerbohm, which add a dose of humor to our typical view of this hard-working artist; props and photographs of Sargent’s studios; and other memorabilia.

The MFA holds the most complete collection of John Singer Sargent’s art—paintings, murals, watercolors, drawings, and sculpture. The John Singer Sargent Archive now establishes the Museum as the center for Sargent scholarship.

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Letters in The John Singer Sargent Archive


John Singer Sargent and Boston

Born in Europe to American parents, John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) lived his life as an expatriate. However, he considered Boston to be his American home, maintaining many ties to the city and its citizens. Sargent held his first solo exhibition in Boston in 1888 at the St. Botolph Club, and he painted many of the city’s most prominent individuals—society leaders, artists, musicians and collectors like Isabella Stewart Gardner. Over the years, the MFA has been committed to the artist, buying and commissioning his work during his lifetime, as well as presenting major exhibitions, including a memorial exhibition in 1925, a centenary celebration in 1956, his first comprehensive retrospective in 1999 and the first display dedicated solely to his watercolor paintings in 2013. The MFA’s Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Gallery, 232, located on the second floor of the Art of the Americas Wing, is dedicated to Sargent’s art, featuring approximately 25 of his renowned paintings. As Sargent put it, describing the disposition of his watercolors, he would be pleased to think “that their home would be in Boston, where so many other things of mine belong.” Sargent died in his sleep in London in April 1925, on the eve of his departure for Boston. It was front-page news in the Boston Daily Globe, which also declared, “Boston Claims Sargent, Great Master, as her Own.”

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Access to the John Singer Sargent Archive

The Archive is available for viewing by appointment in the Morse Study Room for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, located on the first floor of the Museum, near the Lower Rotunda. We are open for appointments Tuesday through Friday, 10 am–Noon and 1:30–4 pm. To schedule an appointment, please call 617-369-3112 or e-mail Patrick Murphy at pmurphy@mfa.org.

We will continue to add material online as resources become available. One of the exciting things about studying American art is that objects and manuscripts keep turning up. Do you have letters to or from Sargent, or photographs of the painter? Let us know!

For research inquiries, contact sargentarchive@mfa.org or 617-369-3507

To make a donation to the Sargent Archive, contact goa@mfa.org or 617-369-4047