John Singer Sargent’s suppliers of artists’ materials
This page provides a summary note on Sargent’s suppliers of artists’ materials, which should be read in conjunction with John Singer Sargent and picture framing. Revised and expanded February 2014; first published March 2013.
It is hoped to develop this study further: please provide feedback to Jacob Simon at [email protected].
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 on the John Singer Sargent Virtual Gallery website. 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.
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). For Foinet and Hardy-Alan, see British artists' suppliers.
When Sargent stayed with Claude Monet at Giverny, very probably in 1885, he used a Vieille & Troisgros canvas for his painting, Claude Monet painting by the edge of a wood (Tate). It is stencilled within a palette shape, identical to those found on some of Monet’s work: H. VIEILLE E TROISGROS Sucr/ 35, RUE DE LAVAL, 35/ PARIS/ COULEURS FINES/ TOILES PANNEAUX. Sargent is not otherwise known to have used Vieille & Troisgros, who were Monet’s suppliers at the time, and it is possible that he obtained the canvas from Monet himself or on his recommendation. Sargent’s canvas is size 54.0 x 64.8 cm, that is a toile de 15, smaller than Monet’s usual size. Such a size featured in Vieille & Troisgros’s trade sheet of c.1883, in three grades of canvas, ordinary, fine and semi-fine. For Vieille & Troisgros, see British artists' suppliers. For Sargent’s later work in the open air, see ‘Hook’ easels, below.
On his visits to Italy as a mature artist, Sargent probably brought most of his painting materials with him from Paris or London, but went 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, c.1880-2, judging from Biasutti’s labels on the reverse of several works, 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.3) 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). For Aickelin, see British artists' suppliers.
Fig.2. Trade sheet. Vieille & Troisgros’s trade sheet (detail), c.1883.
Fig.3. Trade card. Emilio Aickelin’s card, inserted in Lefranc & Cie’s trade catalogue, Fabbrica di Colori e Vernici, 1902.
In London, apart from orders for paints and sketchbooks (see below), Sargent used materials from four well-known businesses: Charles Roberson & Co, for some paints, paper and easels, 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). In 1922 Sargent described Newman as 'a good (the best) London man' and Winsor & Newton as 'another excellent place' when writing to an American painter, Dwight Blaney, adding that he could mention Sargent's name in writing to either of them (see Sources below). For further details of these businesses, see British artists' suppliers.
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 1881 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.4). 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. For Meunier, see British artists' suppliers.
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 . . .'. Whether Roller was referring to Binant’s canvas, made at Thibouville in Normandy, is not known but it is worth noting that two of Sargent’s suppliers, Lechertier Barbe and Henri Meunier, were importers of this prepared canvas. Louis-Alfred Binant (1822-1904) and his successors were leading Paris canvas suppliers and colourmen.
Fig.4. Superior prepared canvas. Made in Normandy for Binant (Paris), advertisement by Henri Meunier, The Year’ Art, 1904 (National Portrait Gallery Library).
Paints and paint medium
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.
Roberson’s were not Sargent’s main paint suppliers but it is possible to document his purchases from this leading business: oil colours in 1884, Magenta in tubes in 1888, Flake White in 1893, Bone Brown in 1899, and, most especially, Marble Medium, which Sargent bought in greater quantities from 1902 to 1913. Roberson’s stocked Parris’s Marble Medium as early as the 1840s and advertised it in their catalogues, c.1870, c.1890 and subsequently, as a medium for mixing with oil colours to achieve a Matt finish to the surface of the painting (information from Sally Woodcock).
Paper and sketchbooks
In general, Sargent preferred French drawing paper, judging from watermarked sheets. He purchased Ingres paper from Roberson’s in 1892 and 1906. 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 essay by Annette Manick and Antoinette Owen in the recent exhibition publication, John Singer Sargent Watercolors, organized by the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2013).
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.
It is possible to document some of Sargent’s sketchbook purchases from Roberson’s through his account in their books. Without providing much detail, the entries show that he bought sketchbooks in 1908, 1910 and 1911.
There are a series of intriguing entries in Sargent’s account with Roberson’s for ‘Hook’ easels and jointed poles between 1906 and 1910. This was at a time that the artist was painting in the open air on the Continent each summer. The ‘Hook’ easel (fig.5) was described in Reeves & Sons Ltd’s Price List of Artists’ Materials in 1906 as ‘The only satisfactory easel for large work out of doors; invented by J.C. Hook, R.A.’. James Clarke Hook (1819-1907) was a landscape and genre painter. His ‘Hook’ easel was in commercial production by 1896, made by Twisden Wilkins (see British artists' suppliers). According to Reeves’s catalogue,’The “Hook” Easel consists of a set of rings for screwing into the back or sides of a canvas frame, and either 3 or 4 poles to pass through these rings, which have tightening screws to hold poles at any point. This arrangement allows the canvas to be fixed at any desired angle or height.
In 1922, when writing to an American painter, Dwight Blaney, Sargent responded to him concerning his easels that 'If you mean my easel for oils (three poles with brass screws) it is called Hook's easel and my size was the medium-size' (see Sources below).
Sargent made several purchases from Roberson. In April 1906 he arranged for a set of four jointed 7 ft poles and another of 6 ft poles, each with brass ‘Hook’ rings, to be sent to Turin. That summer, he painted at Purtud, Val d’Aosta. In June 1908 he purchased a further set of jointed 7 ft poles and brass rings, and in July still more rings, described as ‘7 ft Hook Easel brass rings’. Further purchases followed in July 1909 and June 1910, on the latter occasion including work on making a stick to an umbrella and also a pantograph. It would seem that these purchases were made before travelling to the continent each summer. Photographs and paintings show him at work in the open air on paintings supported by poles, possibly ‘Hook’ easels, often shaded by an umbrella fixed above the easel (see Warren Adelson et al., Sargent Abroad: Figures and Landscapes, 1997, pp.33, 66; John Singer Sargent, catalogue, vol. 7, pp.93, 279-80).
Fig.5 The ‘Hook easel. From Reeves & Sons Ltd’s Price List of Artists’ Materials, 1906.
- 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.
- The relevant ledgers in the Hamilton Kerr Institute, University of Cambridge, are MSS 110-1993 p.535, 121-1993 p.584, 313-1993 p.84, 136-1993 p.545 and 137-1993 p.619.
- I am grateful to Sally Woodcock for providing information on marble medium and the ‘Hook’ easel.
- 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.
- For Parris’s Marble Medium, see Leslie Carlyle, The Artist's Assistant: Oil Painting Instruction Manuals and Handbooks in Britain 1800-1900, 2001, p.113.
- For Sargent's correspondence with the American painter, Dwight Blaney, in 1922, see Blaney papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, reel 1, frames 429-30, information kindly supplied by Richard Ormond.
Figures are from the author's collection, except where stated.