El Jaleo -- Canvas Transfer

El Jaleo -- Print

Work After  El Jaleo

Study for El Jaleo (3)
(After El Jaleo)
Graphite and watercolor on prepared clay-coated paper

Study for El Jaleo (2) 
c. 1879-82
Pencil on paper 

Sketch After El Jaleo 
c. 1879-82 
Ink on paper

Sketch of a Dancer, after "El Jaleo"
Ink on paper

Spanish_Dancer (woman) 
c 1879-82

Study for the Spanish Dancer

El Jaleo
John Singer Sargent -- American painter 
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston 
Oil on canvas 
237 x 352 cm (93 3/8 x 138 1/2 in.) 
Jpg: Carol Gerten's Fine Art

Q. What is the meaning of El Jaleo?

I just viewed a video called American Visions: the Gilded Age, done for PBS in 1997 written and narrated by Robert Hughes. In it he talks about El Jaleo. He says it means the spontaneous clapping and shouting that comes like an "Olay!" at the apex of a performance. 

So what we're seeing is the zenith of the dance, at the  height of its energy. The man with his head tilted back is shouting. You can see the dancer's foot, with her firm heel solidly stomped to the ground in a resounding clap against the hard floor[1]. The passion of the dress being controlled, flipped, the audience baited, played to like a matador’s cape with the stoic aloofness of a tease. The room is focused except for the musicians strumming hard their infectious intensity with cadence clipped in staccato beats that mirrors her quick and sudden movements sending her shawl flailing. The collective hands of the audience clap in point/counter-point to the sharp patterned stomp of her heels.  The sensual energy is contagious and Sargent draws you into his dark room giving it a low light splashing the  shadows high and playing like shadow puppets against the wall in almost a dreamlike feeling. It's base. It's primal. It's gloriously beautiful.

This is Sargent at his best! The passion just oozes off the canvas.

His whole life, Sargent would have a love affair with Spanish music and its culture.  He would say that it is the most beautiful music and that all great music had, in one form or another, some roots to Spanish music.  Even his original thoughts for the Boston Public Library murals were to be on Spanish literature.

Unlike most of his paintings, this one was not painted on site but reconstructed in his Paris studio from memories and sketches that he did during his Spanish trip of the fall and winter of 1879/80. 

In May of 1882 he exhibits El Jaleo at the Paris Solan with resounding applause. Here was man capable of much more than just portrait paintings with a passion and mystery that the public liked. Sargent is feeling his oats and loving it.


  • 1) The fast stomping of the heel called "zapateado", which is so indicative of flamenco dancing today, was only performed by the male dancers in the 19th century, and is more a modern development for women dancers. So this imagery is of my own interpretation. 

  • The painting as it hangs in the museum

  • La Carmencita  Spanish Dancer Portrait 1890
  • A Performer's View of Sargent's El Jaleo: essay by Nancy G. Heller.
  • Learn more about Flamenco dancing and music
  • See the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
  • See the year in review 1879
  • The years in review 1881-1882

Forum Discussion:

Subject: Flamenco dancing and El Jaleo 
From: Colette Illarde 
(c m i @ search-institute. org)
Date: 3/23/00

I wanted to first tell you how wonderful I think your web site is. It invites enjoyable browsing and I found your links giving me many ideas for further browsing.

Second, I was was wondering if you could share your knowledge on "everything Sargent" with me. I am a Flamenco dancer (I'm from Chicago, living now in Minneapolis - I began my training in Chicago, and now travel to Spain every year) and my dream is to  self-produce a concert this fall.

One of the vignettes in the evening's concert is / will be based on El Jaleo.

Do you have any info on projects such as this that have been done before? Any advice or ideas to consider when pulling this concert together. We are thinking to open that particular vignette with a slide projected on the scrim - or maybe just display some of his flamenco inspired art in the lobby. El Jaleo is a theme for only one of the 5 vignettes, so although highlighted, JSS' art is not the overriding theme. I may use the Study for Spanish Dancer for the program notes, though.

Thanks again for your knowledge and interest.


Subject: References to Carmen, Flamenco, and  El Jaleo
From: Natasha Wallace

Dear Colette,

I love Flamenco dancing and share Sargent’s passion for the art. I just think it’s wonderfully passionate. 

I'm sure you know, but others may not, but there was a movie made in 1983 called “Carmen”. It was produced in Spain, staring Antonio Gades, Laura del Sol, Paco de Lucia, Christina Hoyes, and Directed by Carlos Saura (sp?) (it’s a great movie and some of the art-house video stores should have it). The crux of the story is about a Flamenco dance troupe getting ready to produce the play “Carmen”. Although the plot is contemporary (1980's) with much of the movie taking place in a dance studio, you quickly loose yourself in the casting, auditions and rehearsals and find yourself someplace between the reality of the  dance troupe and the passion of the play itself. 

Once they have their Carmen, the story grows deeper quickly, and the director who is also the leading man finds himself falling in love with the young female lead dancer who has the passion and mystery of Carmen herself. 

Her name happens to be Carmen as well, and she has another lover,  -- one rehearsal leads to another, one dance and song leads to the next as the play is unfolding before you. What’s real? What’s just the actors acting? The lines get blurred and you don't know. You don’t care.

The dance sequences are magnificent and bear the heart and soul of the movie. Never have I see a movie that has captured the art of the dance so well.  In a stroke of genius, the director has left the play unpolished and the focus is on the dance. The costumes are simply dancer’s tights and leggings, but there is little doubt after the movie is over, that what you just saw was one of the best adaptations of Carmen ever captured on film – I highly recommend it. 

But I have gone far afield of your letter. If I’m not mistaken, the play Carmen was first produced in the mid nineteenth century (you might know more about this than me). So the general public who saw his painting at the Salon of 1882 would have known about the play. 

It was not Sargent’s intent that the scene we see in the painting to be of "Carmen" -- but just of what it is – a local cantina with a dancer and musicians. 

Sargent loved Spanish Gypsies and the culture. He would often declare himself to be half Gypsy. This was all tongue-in-cheek because he was nothing of the sort; but it tells you where his heart was. 

Sargent reproduced the painting in a live performance twice, once in America and then later again in London -- both times Carmencita  was the dancer. Nothing is known about what music was used. Much of what I know about Sargent I've already written. Make special note of the links I’ve highlighted above and particularly La Carmencita. I don’t know of any other productions done with El Jaleo being a focal point, but it sounds like a wonderful idea. 

In reproducing the painting, I'd keep two things in mind. First, Sargent intent was to capture the mood through the lighting -- the dark room with low lighting and the shadows thrown against the wall. Secondly, and this is my own feelings, Sargent has taken us to a local  cantina in Spain and we're voyeuristically glimpsing a group of performers that are playing as much for themselves as any intended audience. 

I love the scrim idea. If you could somehow reproduce the textured plaster wall with hanging guitars in a slide, then use your dancers and chairs to sit in front. But the problem is that you wouldn't get the moving shadow on the wall from the dancer which was everything that Sargent was trying to achieve. Instead of actually using front low lighting for a real shadow, you might try to artificially create a moving shadow from behind the scrim (maybe a fan with tensile) it wouldn't be exact but would give you that eerie feeling of movement. Or maybe a combination of front lighting for the dancer upstage and scrim backstage (could that work???) Then after the vignette is over and the musicians and dancers exit taking the chairs with them, you could cut the front lights and slowly dissolve a slide of El Jaleo against the scrim as sort of a finally -- which might prove to be pretty dramatic. 

Just an idea. It's fun to think of how to do it. -- Good luck and thanks for your note.


From: Colette Illarde 
(c m i @ search-institute. org)

Thanks for your reply, Natasha. Yes, Saura's "Carmen" is a wonderful film. I plan to scour your site for more info and stories of Sargent in Spain. If you'd like, I'll keep you posted on the project!


 [then she wrote back -- she did it!]

FUEGO Flamenco does Sargent 

Subject: Additional studies of El Jaleo?
From: H W Cates 
H W Cat es @ aol.com 
Wed, 16 Oct 2002

Natasha; You've done an enormous amount of work. God Bless YOU and THANK YOU!

I am from Texas, originally, I now live in New England. I'm in my 70s and lived a quite satisfying life, despite some awful setbacks. I have always enjoyed Flamenco music and Gypsy/Roma culture. I DO know something about both. (That's why I have some idea of the awesome effort represented by your site.) My wife (no.2 and also a Flamenco/Gypsy aficionada) and I sleep nightly under the largest copy of El Jaleo the ISG ever produced, which was before the cleaning. So I see "el Jaleo" every day of my life. 

After "el Jaleo" was cleaned, loaned and re hung about 1988, the "opening party" which I attended, because I was an ISG member at the time, was handled beautifully. A Gypsy friend of mine, Pedro Cortes, Jr. then in NYC, performed flamenco guitar accompanied by a cantaor and bailora for the event. It was wonderful! 

Not long ago, I saw a book, I don't remember where or Title or what, that was part of a JSS exhibit, that included something called Gypsy or Flamenco Sketches. They were simple oil brushed "sketches" of single or small groups of Flamenco performers on a white canvas. If you could help me locate any details on the book they are in, or prints of the actual sketches, I would be very appreciative. 

I live about 65 miles north of Boston and I'm a member of the MFA, and Harvard museums, I work as a Security Guard at the Currier Museum in Manchester. I am no longer a member of the ISG because they screwed up my membership records so badly when I sent in a request for a change in address when I moved up here about 15 years ago. 

Abrazos, and thanks if you can help me locate the "Flamenco Sketches"! Homero 

From: Natasha Wallace
Friday, 18 Oct 2002

Thank you so much.

Apparently El Jaleo was so popular for Sargent, that he was asked a number of times to draw additional sketches after the fact, which apparently he did. Just how many of these, such as the drawings with watercolor added for highlight at the Met in NY, I don't know -- you probably know a lot more about this than I do.

I would assume the book you are referring to must be about some of these additional drawings. I haven't heard of it but let's hope someone writes and tells us.

I've tried to pull together all the thumbnails relating to this painting, but you might additionally look at the year 1879 which has some additional Spanish dancers.

Editor's note: From here, the conversations takes two divergent paths which I separate.


Subject: John Wayne does Sargent's El Jaleo
From: Kathie Roskom 
<kjr g en@hotmail.com>
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000 


Did you know that the scene of "El Jaleo" was recreated in the movie "The Alamo" (John Wayne)?  I discovered it in a most amazing way several years ago.  I was watching television and during a commercial while I was channel surfing I suddenly saw the painting (which I had just seen days before) come to life!!! 

In the story the Texans are sneaking around the Mexicans camp one night while they are drinking and dancing.  As everyone in the scene gets to just the right position the action freezes for just a moment, and then continues on. 

I remember from my film classes in college that it was once a 'fad' to create these tableaus in movies.  It was great fun to see, but the split second timing that led to me clicking onto that particular station at that particular moment was quite shocking! 


From: Natasha
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000

No!!!  . . . 


Since I saw it as a little kid I'm wracking my brain and I'm faintly remember the scene 

This is great -- I'm going to rent the movie this weekend.



Yep, there is was, but it was only but a second or two.

Subject: The Play Carmen -- more in depth 
From: Stephanie  jen  jer6@aol.com
Date: 6-12-00


Had John Sargent been influenced by the play Carmen?

Here's the article on the play:

[Editor's note: But first, if you don't know the Opera read Natasha's Cliff Notes on “Carmen”]

Bizet's Carmen 

George Bizet (1838-1875) composed his opera Carmen following the old tradition of setting operas in Spain, more than 20 in Seville alone. It opened in 1875 at the Opera Comique in Paris.The story-line is more complicated than Prosper Merimée’s novel; more characters were added and stereotypes exaggerated by the libbrétists Meilhac and Halevy.   The original story had to be adapted to conform to the conventions and expectations of the audience accustomed to bourgeois melodrama. The result was a little too shocking for the family theater (Carmen was a public enemy, a threat to law and order, conjuring revolutionary ghosts, and nevitably had to die in the end, something unseen in the Opera Comique) but also a little too diluted and denaturalized for the purist, who considered it basically a French opera imbued with Spanish gypsy motifs, perhaps a Spanish reflection of a moment in French history, after the failed revolution of the Paris Commune. It was not a success, initially. Nevertheless, Carmen would soon become the most popular opera of all time and the Spanish Gypsy the enduring symbol of the exotiziced romantic construction of Spain, as can testified by the numerous versions and resurrections of Carmen, on stage, on screen, even on ice. Amazingly,  as to this day Carmen is still often claimed, in academic discourse and in popular culture, to represent the pure -unmediated- spirit of Spain. 

For further reading, you may consult these books: McClary, Susan. George Bizet's Carmen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Gould, Evlyn. The Fate of Carmen. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1996. 

Also check out:
More on Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870)
I know John Sargent have painted a lot of Spanish women such as Carmela Bertagna, Carmencita, the ladies of El Jaleo, and the various Spanish gypsies.  I think he's influenced by Carmen.


From: Natasha

A lot of the books on Sargent talk about the play Carmen and it was certainly in the minds and imagination of the French when they saw Sargent's painting.

From: Natasha


You're are going to love this. Ralph Curtis (John's friend) saw references to Carmen in El Jaleo. Take a look at this:

Ralph Curtis paints Carmen

Subject: The Movies of Carmen -- more in depth 
From: Stephanie  jen   jer6@aol.com
Date: Posted 4/20/01

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Spanish Male Dancer before Seated Figures
Ink on paper   

Study for Seated Figures 
c. 1882 
Oil on canvas

Study for Seated Musicians 
c. 1882 
Oil on canvas

Seated Musician,
c. 1879-1880
Graphite on off-white wove paper

Study for El Jaleo 
c. 1879-82 
Charcoal on paper

Study for El Jaleo (Guitarist Heads)
c. 1879-82 
Charcoal on paper

Studies for El Jaleo 
c. 1879-82 
Pencil on paper

Sketches of Spanish Dancers Performing

Spanish Dancer (male, with hat)

Spanish Dancer (male, without hat)

Sketchbook 1880 Dancer for El Jaleo
c. 1880-1881

Man's Head, study for El Jaleo
Museums of San Francisco 


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