John Singer Sargent’s suppliers of artists’ materials
A summary note on Sargent’s suppliers of artists’ materials, which should be read in conjunction with John Singer Sargent and picture framing. Published March 2013. It is hoped to develop this study further. Please provide feedback to Jacob Simon at email@example.com.
Pictures are referred to by their number in the standard Sargent catalogue by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent, Yale University Press, 7 vols, 1998 to date, which forms the source for some of the documentation in this text.
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was born in Florence to American parents. He trained in Paris and worked there before settling in London in 1886. Over the course of a long career, he made various visits to the United States, as well as touring in Europe. It was in Paris as a young man that Sargent acquired his taste for French canvas and for French drawing paper.
Sargent’s choice of suppliers is not well documented. For his technical practice as a painter in oils and for some of his suppliers, see the excellent account by Jacqueline Ridge and Joyce Townsend, 'John Singer Sargent's later portraits: The artist's technique and materials', Apollo, September 1998, vol.148, pp.23-30, available online at http://jssgallery.org/Essay/Articles/Apollo/Apollo1998.html. Ridge and Townsend point out how few of Sargent’s canvases in the collections of Tate and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, are marked with the supplier’s name, and the same applies to the National Portrait Gallery collection.
Fig.1. French prepared canvas. From Lechertier Barbe & Co’s trade catalogue, List of Colours and Materials for Oil Painting, Gilding, and Sketching Out of Door, 1891, pp.20-1.
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France and Italy
Sargent entered the teaching atelier of Carolus-Duran in Paris in 1874. A fellow student and compatriot, the American, Will Hicok Low, has left a description of how the Paris colourman, Paul Foinet, would appear in the atelier anteroom every Monday morning with a supply of colours, brushes and canvas for students to purchase (Will H. Low, A Chronicle of Friendships 1873-1900, 1958, pp.19-21). Whether Sargent used Foinet is not known but, like his master, Carolus-Duran, he did use a leading Paris supplier of canvas, Hardy-Alan, for his canvases for Atlantic Storm, 1876 (cat.662; Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis) and The Misses Vickers, 1884 (cat.129; Sheffield City Art Galleries).
Fig.2. Trade card.
Emilio Aickelin’s card, inserted in Lefranc & Cie’s trade catalogue, Fabbrica di Colori e Vernici, 1902.
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On his visits to Italy as a mature artist, he probably brought most of his painting materials with him from Paris or London, but turned to local suppliers on occasion. In Venice as a boy of 14 in May 1870 he had used a sketchbook supplied by Giovanni Brizeghel in the Merceria dell’Orologio. Later he turned to Giuseppe Biasutti, who was located close to the Accademia in Venice, for supports for several works, c.1880-2, judging from labels on the reverse, including The Onion Seller, c.1880-2, on canvas (cat.801, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid) and Street in Venice, c.1882, on panel (cat.808; National Gallery of Art, Washington DC). For watercolour paper, he used Emilio Aickelin (fig.2) in Venice for Sky, c.1907, a laminate on board (cat.1441; Metropolitan Museum of Art) and a supplier in via Tornabuoni in Florence, by the name of Giuseppe (his second name is obscured), who offered ‘Generi per la pittura’, for Boboli Gardens, Florence, c.1906 (cat.1379; Metropolitan Museum of Art).
In London, apart from orders for paints and sketchbooks (see below), Sargent used materials from four well-known businesses: Charles Roberson & Co, for accessories for his easels, some ordered from abroad, 1884-1924; Lechertier Barbe & Co, importers of artists’ materials from the Continent, for canvas for A Backwater at Henley, c.1887 (cat.880; Baltimore Museum of Art); James Newman, for canvas for Mannikin in the Snow, c.1892 (cat.962; Metropolitan Museum of Art); and Winsor & Newton Ltd, for canvas for studies for his painting, General Officers of the World War One, c.1919-22 (National Portrait Gallery, London). For further details of these businesses, see British artists' suppliers on the National Portrait Gallery website.
Fig.3. Superior prepared canvas.
Made in Normandy for Binant (Paris), advertisement by Henri Meunier, The Year’ Art, 1904 (National Portrait Gallery Library).
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Interestingly, Sargent also used a less well-known London supplier of French origins, Henri Meunier (c.1841-1917). Meunier was trading as a cabinet maker in Chelsea by 1886 and was supplying stands for sculptors in 1889. Progressively, artists’ materials took pride of place in his business. In The Year's Art in 1904 he advertised Binant's superior prepared canvas, made in Normandy (fig.3). Sargent’s unfinished Edward Wertheimer, 1902 (cat.432; Tate) has Meunier’s label from 65 Edgware Road, his address in 1900 and 1901, on the stretcher reverse, and two other paintings bear his stamp, Hospital at Granada, 1912, stamped on the canvas reverse: HENRI MEUNIER & Co./ IMPORTERS OF ARTISTS MATERIALS/ 26 EARL'S COURT ROAD W and Autumn Leaves, 1913, stamped on the stretcher: H. MEUNIER/ 14 CHURCH STREET, KENSINGTON. (both National Gallery of Victoria). Meunier’s business was incorporated in 1913 as Meunier & Co Ltd and two years later Sargent became a shareholder, implying a close professional interest.
Ridge and Townsend (see above) quote a letter dated 1926 from Sargent's restorer, George Roller, written after his death, that he had: 'an affection for a particular sort of French canvas. A canvas that probably was not often used by other painters, therefore not primed and kept in stock. Only got ready for him when he wanted it . . .'. The manufacturer of most of Sargent's canvases remains to be identified but it is worth noting that both Lechertier Barbe and Henri Meunier imported Binant’s prepared canvas, advertised as made at Thibouville in Normandy. Louis-Alfred Binant (1822-1904) and his successors were leading Paris canvas suppliers and colourmen.
Paints and papers
A set of moist colours in tubes, together with various brushes, apparently from Sargent’s studio, were given to the Fogg Art Museum by the museum’s director, Edward Waldo Forbes (1873-1969). The colours are summarily listed in Marjorie B. Cohn, Wash and Gouache: A study of the development of the materials of watercolor, 1977, p. 66, and are mostly from Newman and Winsor & Newton, but also from Hatfield, Schmincke and Weber. Both colours and brushes are reproduced in Judith C. Walsh, 'Observation on watercolour techniques of Homer and Sargent', in American Traditions of Watercolor: The Worcester Art Museum Collection, New York, 1987, pp.44, 61.
In general, Sargent preferred French drawing paper, judging from watermarked sheets. For works on paper, see the essay by Judith C. Walsh, cited above, and Stephanie L. Herdrich and H. Barbara Weinberg, American drawings and watercolors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: John Singer Sargent, New York and New Haven, 2000, which contains Marjorie Shelley’s essay, ‘Materials and Techniques’, pp.17-34. See also the forthcoming publication (April 2013) accompanying the exhibition, John Singer Sargent Watercolors, organized by the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, featuring new discoveries based on a scientific study of Sargent’s pigments, drawing techniques, and paper preparation.
Sargent obtained his sketchbooks from many suppliers. In the following listing, the year indicates when a sketchbook was first used. Sketchbooks are in the collection of the Fogg Art Museum except as indicated. In Italy, Volpini, Florence (1870) and Giovanni Brizeghel, Venice (1870, Metropolitan Museum of Art). In Germany, Emil Geller, Dresden (1872), Emil Richter, Dresden (1872) and Georg Stuffler, Munich (1884). In Paris, Gastou (1889, Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Marquet (c.1916). In London, Lechertier Barbe & Co (c.1885, 1889, 1892), George Rowney & Co (c.1895, 1903, 1911), Winsor & Newton Ltd (c.1902), Roberson & Co (c.1910), C. Roberson & Co Ltd (c.1890; however, the supplier’s details would suggest a date of 1907 or later), Tattersall’s, Putney (c.1895), Army & Navy Ltd (c.1904), W.H. Monk, Chelsea (1911, c.1912), Newman (1918), Parkins & Cotto (date unknown) and S.W. Easton & Son (c.1906). For sketchbooks in the Fogg Art Museum, see Miriam Stewart and Kerry Schauber, ‘Catalogue of Sketchbooks and Albums by John Singer Sargent at the Fogg Art Museum’, in ‘Sargent at Harvard’, Harvard University Art Museums Bulletin, vol.7, no.1, 2000, pp.16-38.
Joyce Townsend kindly provided details of the label on Sargent’s Edward Wertheimer. For Giuseppe Biasutti, see Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent, vol.4, Figures and landscapes, 1874-1882, 2006, pp.220, 321, 351. For Brizeghel, see Herdrich and Weinberg, cited above, p.78. For Roberson & Co, see Ridge and Townsend, cited above, p.26; see also Sally Woodcock (ed.) with Judith Churchman, Index of Account Holders in the Roberson Archive 1820-1939, Cambridge, 1997, p.192. For Newman’s stamp, see Doreen Bolger Burke, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol.III, A Catalogue of Works by Artists born between 1846 and 1864, New York, 1980, p.238. For Binant, see Pascal Labreuche, Paris, capitale de la toile à peindre, XVIIIe-XIXe siècle, Paris, 2011, pp.280-4. Figures 1 and 2 are from the author's collection.