Arts Everyday Living: John Singer Sargent & the Art of Sleep

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Did John Singer Sargent (1856-1926), who produced approximately 600 oil portraits, 1600 watercolors, over 600 landscapes and genre works, really want to relax and take a nap?  For no other artist seems to be so preoccupied with depicting sleep, whether in England, Italy, Switzerland or wherever the often restless Sargent traveled. Here’s a virtual gallery of several examples of various ladies—and one gentleman—enjoying a snooze or at least a little extra rest.


The influence of Sargent’s friend Claude Monet is evident in the Impressionist style of Two Women Asleep in a Punt under the Willows, done in 1887 in  the English countryside near London.  Like Monet, the American painter had constructed his own batteau atelier (boat studio), so he could recreate the reflections of light and color on the water.  According to George Henschel, whom Sargent had recently met:

He had built himself a little floating studio on a punt on the Thames river, where it was a delight to see him, a splendid specimen of manly physique , clad—it was an exceptionally hot and dry summer, I remember—in a white flannel shirt and trousers, a silk scarf around the waist, and a small straw hat with a coloured ribbon on his large head…..



John Singer  Sargent, Two Women Asleep in a Punt under the Willows, 1887, oil on canvas, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal


 On another summer day, Sargent posed a pair of models on land. Do the Two Girls Lying on the Grass (1889) look comfortable?


John Singer Sargent, Two Girls Lying on the Grass, 1889,  oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

However, Reclining Figure, usually identified as one of Sargent’s nieces, is beyond caring.  Draped in a remarkable cashmere shawl, she appears oblivious of her surroundings in the Italian Alps where the Sargent family was vacationing in 1908.



John Singer Sargent, Reclining Figure, c. 1908, watercolor on paper, Private Collection


Next, Sargent’s sister Emily is still alert, reading her book, although her companion Elizabeth Wedgwood might be ready to doze.  Painted in Majorca in 1908, Mosquito Nets is, in Elizabeth’s words, such an amusing picture of Emily and me–in what John called “Garde Mangers”- Emily’s invention for keeping out mosquitos……




John Singer Sargent, Mosquito Nets, 1908, oil on canvas, The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan

Does the watercolor In Switzerland (1908) need any explanation?  Except could the pipe-smoker use a longer bed?



John Singer Sargent, In Switzerland, 1908, watercolor, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY


Finally, the sleeping beauty of Repose is Rose-Marie Ormond (1893-1918), Sargent’s niece and frequent subject.  Recognize the pattern of her silk wrap amidst the plush furnishings?  Done in 1911, this work represents the luxury and elegance of an era soon to end in the destruction of World War I, which also claimed the life of the sitter.*

But isn’t it best to remember Rose-Marie on a peacetime afternoon, slumbering quietly before her uncle’s admiring eyes?




John Singer Sargent, Repose, 1911, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


*Rose-Marie Ormond died during the German shelling of Paris in 1918.


This blog is based on biographies of Sargent (see: Monday and Wednesday blogs).

The above images are used solely for educational purposes.


public domainRepose is in the public domain in the United States.

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