Step Closer 

A Venetian Woman in a Scarlet Shawl ("Gigia Viani")

Venetian Glass Workers

Italian Girl with Fan 
Cincinnati Art Museum 
Oil on canvas
238.1 x 133.4 cm (93
3/4 x 52 1/2 in.)
lower right: John S. Sargent 1882; on back of original frame, now mounted on stretcher: J. S. Sargent Venice 1883 (sic)

The Edward and Virginia Irwin Memorial 
 Jpg: local / Cincinnati Art Museum
(click on image to step closer)
The painting is of the Venetian model Gigia Viani. She is used by John continuously in most of his Venetian studies. This particular portrait stands out from his other Venetian work in more ways than one. First of all, you can't dismiss its enormous size. At 2.38 meters high (7.8 feet) it is clearly larger than life. It is also one of the few clear full portraits of that trip -- as apposed to a scene. 

Linda Ayres speculates (in John Singer Sargent, Whitney Museum; "Sargent in Venice"; pp.49-73) that John had been intending this painting for the Paris Salon. This brings up a very interesting point. He had clearly connected with the critics in previous exhibitions with his "exotic portraits" such as A Capriote (1879), Fumée d'Ambre Gris (1880), and then, maybe exotic to a lesser extent but just a beautiful, the wife of the Chilean consul in Paris Madame Ramon Subercaseaux (1881). Could Sargent have been thinking of using this as a Salon submission? I think maybe so.   

So why didn't he show it?  
In 1882 he was in Venice in August, so he had already submitted Lady with the Rose for that year. The following Salon he only shows one painting -- the Boit's Daughters. 

Why only one when he generally showed more than one? 

From all I've read, nothing is ever mentioned of a painting, or paintings by John that were refused by the Salon. Does that mean everything Sargent ever submitted was accepted -- or do we just not know which paintings were refused? No one, that I've found anyway, has even broached the subject. Odd, since to me it's one of the more interesting questions about Sargent and the Salon. Maybe its not mentioned because no one knows.  

Those particular questions will have to go unanswered for now. Linda Ayres tells us in a footnote that apparently Sargent didn't finish Italian Girl with Fan in '82. Ralph Latimer (a nephew of the Curtises) says that John had left the painting unfinished at the Palazzo Barbao in '82 and subsequent years. He eventually, of course, would finish it at some point in time and John said of it, according to Latimer, "I have never painted a better head." 

Now you can imply that Sargent was talking about this particular painting, but I think he might have been talking about the model Gigia Viani in general. She is, after all, stunning with that uniquely recognizable and adorable way she cocks her head. Ralph Curtis painted her. Many others must have as well. Sargent paints her continuously in those two years he was doing his Venetian Studies -- placing her in situation of everyday life: carrying water, stringing beads, strolling down the back Venetian Streets or within one of those massive, though neglected, Palazzi. 

David McKibbin's (worked for the Fine Arts Museum, Boston and one of the first Sargentologist) speculates that possibly Gigia is not holding a fan in this painting but a bundle of glass tubes prior to being cut as in "Venetian Glass Workers". This, to me, makes a lot of sense and would fall in line with his other scenes.  

I have found very little on the model Gigia Viani but to see her, to see her in the settings that Sargent has placed her -- the everyday life of the everyday person makes me want to know so much more about her. A beauty not unlike Rosina Ferrara from Capri, begs the question of what is the story behind this remarkable face? 



John Singer Sargent, An Exhibition -- Whitney Museum, NY & The Art Institute of Chicago 1986-1987


Ralph Wormeley Curtis
(1854-1922) American painter

Gigia Viani 

Created 1989