John Singer Sargent, Whitby Fishing Boats, 1884, oil on canvas. Private Collection

In Sargent and the Sea, the Corcoran Gallery of Art brings together for the first time more than 80 paintings, watercolors, and drawings depicting seascapes and coastal scenes from the early career of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), the pre-eminent American expatriate painter of the late 19th century.  The Corcoran’s masterwork En route pour la pêche (Setting out to Fish) (1878), will serve as the centerpiece of the exhibition, and will be joined by other works produced during, and inspired by, the artist’s summer journeys from his home in Paris to Brittany, Normandy, and Capri, as well as two transatlantic voyages. Sargent and the Sea will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (February 14 – May 23, 2010) and the Royal Academy of Arts, London (July 10 – September 26, 2010).


John Singer Sargent, Two Boys on the Beach with Boats, c. 1878, oil on panel. The Society of Swedish Literature in Finland.

While Sargent is best known for his society portraits and much of his oeuvre has been well-documented in exhibitions and publications, this groundbreaking exhibition and its accompanying catalogue will be the first to examine in depth the little explored—but highly important—marine paintings and drawings executed during the first five years of the artist’s career.

Sargent’s two paintings depicting fisherfolk at Cancale (1878, Corcoran Gallery of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) are central works in the canon of the artist’s early career. However, recent discoveries of three important seascapes and the location of other pictures previously untraced, have cast a new spotlight on Sargent’s activity as a maritime painter. It is no coincidence that he came from a New England family steeped in trade and shipping. His passion for the sea and his knowledge of seafaring are evident in this important group of early paintings, watercolors, and drawings, executed when he was between 18 and 23 years old (1875–1879). The extent and quality of his marine output will be a complete revelation to nearly all audiences, even to specialists in the field.


John Singer Sargent, En Route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish), 1878, oil on canvas. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund 17.2.

With the exception of the two well-known Cancale oils, Sargent’s seascapes have not been widely studied or reproduced, proving that even for a renowned, frequently published artist there is yet new material to be mined. Moreover, these pictures and their preparatory and related works (not to mention the unrelated marines), have never been considered in the context of Sargent’s career in particular and the history of marine painting in general. Similarly, the artist’s work as a marine draughtsman has never been studied in relation to his output as a marine painter; for the first time, this project will relate his freely-handled marine drawings, large and small, to his watercolors, oil sketches, and finished oil paintings of marine subjects.


John Singer Sargent, Boats II, c. 1879, watercolor and graphite on paper. Private Collection.

Sargent and the Sea will feature works dating from 1874 to 1879 drawn from public and private collections in the U.S. and Europe. Richard Ormond, grandnephew of the artist and a leading Sargent scholar who has directed and jointly authored all four (of the projected eight) volumes of the Sargent catalogue raisonné, is serving as consulting curator for the exhibition. Ormond served as director of the National Maritime Museum in London from 1986 to 2000; over the past 27 years, he has been working to complete the Sargent catalogue raisonné. The exhibition is enriched by his latest research.

Sargent and the Sea is organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and made possible by the generous support of the Terra Foundation for American Art, Christie's, The Mr. & Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, Inc., and Altria Group, Inc. Additional support for the exhibition is provided by the American Masterpieces initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts and The Joseph F. McCrindle Foundation.