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John Singer Sargent: The Male Nudes [Hardcover]

John Esten
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 15 1999
Published on the occasion of a major Sargent retrospective in 1999 traveling to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, "John Singer Sargent: The Male Nudes" reveals a fascinatingly erotic portion of the artist's work long hidden from the public eye.

Beginning in his adolescence and continuing throughout his distinguished career, Sargent, the celebrated painter of the elegant patrician class, produced a brilliantly executed, powerful, and uninhibited body of work that was rarely seen and never exhibited because of its shocking content: The male nude. In Sargent's era, these images were considered little more than pornography, but despite this stigma, he persisted in sketching and painting male models (one of whom stayed in the artist's employ for nearly 26 years). Sargent was determined to capture "the human form divine."

Over the last century, these little known works have dispersed into collections around the world. In this volume, John Esten reveals the most extraordinary of these works, ranging from vibrant watercolors to unfinished charcoal sketches, as they are published for the first time together.

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The beauty and gentle eroticism of John Singer Sargent's paintings and drawings of nude males are the raison d'être of this otherwise somewhat slight book. Most are exquisitely languid, with such tender touches as a pink tinge on the buttocks of a boy lying prone on a beach in Capri, or two intimate "tommies"--privates in the World War I British Army--napping on a riverbank after a swim, heads together. Then there are a few nude wrestling matches, à la Eadweard Muybridge and D.H. Lawrence. And, as the author somewhat frantically insists, there are works that possess an "uplifting and spiritual aspect."

The wonder is that Sargent's sisters preserved these works--which the artist had kept private--after his death. They are thrilling, as much for Sargent's astonishing facility with a brushload of color as for the sensuous subjects. The essay may be skipped by readers who wince when informed that any subject of a society portrait by Sargent was "transformed into a fashionable denizen of the Edwardian age, whomever he was." Author John Esten sniffs prissily at the suggestion that Sargent may have harbored homoerotic feelings, while the works themselves often unabashedly focus on the genitalia of the models, and the ones that don't are filled with the kind of closeness and warmth of observation that makes the model's soft skin seem almost palpable. Linger over the book's 18 color plates, which are a lasting, luscious pleasure; the scores of black-and-white drawings are similarly inspired. --Peggy Moorman

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Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment. May 25 1999
By A Customer
A disappointing selection of works, most of which are available already in several books on Sargent. And why they did not include the beautiful watercolor which is illustrated in Trevor Fairbrother's article "A Private Album" I cannot understand, as I have never seen it reproduced anywhere but in "Arts Magazine" from 1981. I have a feeling that there is another book out there if anyone cares to make a REAL effort and put it together.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Images that speak for themselves Jan. 11 2003
It's hard to believe there was a time when the images in this book would have been considered pornographic. But if Singer's portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau ("Madame X") was considered scandalous because he painted her with a dropped shoulder strap (later repainted in its proper position), then you can understand why these male nudes (mostly charcoal sketches and quick watercolors, but also some finished oil paintings) were kept unexhibited for so long. We have Sargent's sisters to thank that they were not destroyed outright, but carefully placed with museums for safekeeping.
If text is the clothing of art books, then Donna Hassler has provided THE MALE NUDES with less than a loin cloth. But there's not much that needs to be said, anyway. The plates should be enjoyed in their own right. I especially enjoyed the charcoal drawings. They are contextless and their strong outlines give them extra punch and a sense of iconic completeness. Though well rounded and subtly shaded, they remind me somehow of Jean Cocteau's spirited line drawings. The watercolors reminded me of Winslow Homer's. All in all, a nice little book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Long Hidden from the Public" July 24 2001
This is a beautiful book that I truly enjoyed. Not being a critic, but just a lover of fine art, I found this long hidden selection of John Singer Sargent's male nudes fascinating, and beautiful produced. There are drawings in black & white and many in color in this fine selection. This book was published on the occasion of Sargent's major retrospect that traveled to several major galleries in 1999.
Sargent began some of these drawings in his adolescence, and continued drawing male nudes throughout his career. However, they were never exhibited or seen by many other people until now. Some of the models became enduring friends with the artist, and remained by his side during his entire lifetime. There is a wonderful introduction that is very helpful in understanding this very talented and creative artist. I highly recommend this book to anyone that knows and enjoys Sargent's artistic work. For those of you who don't, this is a great introduction!
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