John Singer Sargent's At the Forge
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John Singer Sargent

Man with Loincloth
At the Forge 
John Singer Sargent -- American painter 
1911 ? 
Private collection
 Jpg: local

I don't know the history of this drawing, but get a load of this:

Sargent's friend, Edwin Austin Abbey was commissioned to do some murals for the State Capitol at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Before he could finish these, Edwin, in 1911, grew deathly sick. 

Sargent, at the time, was in Munich when he received word from Edwin's wife. John dropped everything and was at the the bedside of his old friend from Broadway, co-conspirator in the Boston Library murals, in less than two days.

Edwin was dying and the two friends knew it. He asked John to help him finish the murals he was working on, not an easy thing to do finishing another man's work, but without batting an eye he agreed and assured his friend that they would be completed just as he envisioned.

Now I haven't seen these murals but take a look at an oil study done by Abby around 1904-1908, and tell me if you don't see the connection.

Edwin Austin Abbey

Men at an Anvil
c. 1904-08
Oil sketch
Studies for the state capitol at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

The winter following Abbey's death and at a retrospective exhibition of his work (1912) the critic Robert Ross of the Morning Post wrote a scathing critique of Abbey's art. Sargent  responded at once:

    Jan 9th

    My dear Mr. Ross

    I am very glad to see that you are answering protests on your article about Abbey, because it may give you the opportunity of
    removing the impression that you have chosen this moment to make a one sided attack. Surely in reviewing his life's work at this final exhibition you must recognize his particular quality of dramatic insight and invention, his endless variety of characterization, his humour, his pathos and his occasional grimness. You have hurt a good many feelings by an apparent want of feeling at a time when hats are taken off. It would be handsome of you as you are still writing on the subject to appease his ghost by a mention of his good qualities as well as those that you dislike.

    Do you see no imagination and beauty in those two decorative designs of the Puritan Ships and the Miners Going Down into the

    Yours sincere,

    John S Sargent

    (Charteris, P. 201)

I have noticed, when Sargent copies another artist's work -- or pencil sketches of his own finished paintings after the fact, that the diagonal shading he often uses for the background is much more deliberate and precise (giving it a more "finished" image") then when he is working conceptually on his own ideas.

It seems to me that "At the Forge" is a drawing done after Edwin Austin Abbey. And so the quest is to find the painting from which this particular pose came from -- maybe even entitled "Miners Going Down" -- you think? 

Maybe, just maybe, in time we'll find it.


Image of Sargent's drawing printed in Charteris's book

The date is a guess by me




By:  Natasha Wallace
Copyright 1998-2003 all rights reserved
Created 10/23/2002