John Singer Sargent

W. Graham Robertson

1894

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 2305 x 1187 mm
frame: 2490 x 1360 x 90 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1940
Reference
N05066

Display caption

Graham Robertson was an author, painter and collector who bequeathed to the Tate Gallery more than twenty paintings and drawings. He was twenty-eight when he posed for this portrait together with his eleven-year-old poodle, Mouton. John Singer Sargent presents Robertson as a London dandy, wearing a fur-collared full-length coat and leaning on a jade-handled cane. In his autobiography Robertson recalled that Sargent had insisted he wear the long coat even though it was summer. He also tried to make Robertson look as thin and youthful as possible.

Gallery label, July 2007

Technique and condition

The painting is technique is in general typical of Sargent’s portrait painting. The canvas weight is of the heavier type used by him but the ground colour is typical. The figure has been characteristically developed with broad planes of colour, which are then refined to determine the contours and outline of the shapes. The fine horizontal cracking found in many of his portraits may indicate the rolling of the canvas at the priming stage. The excess canvas visible at the back facilitates his not infrequent habit of altering the visual dimension of the subject but in this case the canvas only appears to have been stretched once. No drawing directly on the canvas is apparent and would not be expected. Preparatory drawings on paper may exist but these would not have slavishly determined the pose but simply have captured its essence. The changes in composition of this work are again typical of Sargent, for example repositioning of the feet, redefining of the coat contour making the figure seem even more thin and vertical.

Jacqueline Ridge
August 1998

Catalogue entry

N05066 W. GRAHAM ROBERTSON 1894

Inscr. ‘John S. Sargent 1894’ b.r.
Canvas, 90 3/4×46 3/4 (235×118·5).
Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1940.
Coll: Painted at the artist's request in summer 1894.
Exh: R.A., 1895 (503); Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1896 (1134); Society of Portrait Painters, New Gallery, 1907 (61); Paintings by British Artists, Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, August–September 1908 (26, repr. p.6); Ausstellung Amerikanischer Kunst, Königliche Akademie der Künste, Berlin, March–April 1910 (60, repr. in illus. supplement); R.A., winter 1926 (417, repr. Illustrations of the Sargent Exhibition, p.21); Tate Gallery, June–October 1926.
Lit: Downes, 1925, pp.39, 173; Charteris, 1927, pp.140, 154, 174, 265, repr. facing p.154; W. Graham Robertson, Time Was, 1931, pp.233–8, 241, repr. as frontispiece; Mount, 1955, pp.200–2, 434; McKibbin, 1956, p.119; Mount, 1957, pp.165–7, 343, repr. facing p.226
Repr: Wood, n.d., pl.4 (in colour); Manson and Meynell, 1927, n.p.

Walford Graham Robertson (1866–1948), portrait and landscape painter, book illustrator, theatrical costume designer, playwright and collector. He presented and bequeathed to the Tate Gallery over twenty paintings and drawings from his collection of works by William Blake, as well as the portrait of his grandmother, Mrs Greatorex, by Andrew Geddes, and other works.

This portrait shows him as a young man with his eleven-year-old poodle ‘Mouton’ of the St Jean de Luz breed. Sargent had begun painting a portrait of the sitter's mother and also one of his friend the actress Ada Rehan. It was through Miss Rehan that the artist let it be known to Graham Robertson how much he wanted to paint him in his elegant long overcoat. Robertson agreed to this, but the hot summer weather made it impossible for him to wear such a thick garment unless he stripped himself of most of his other clothes. This paring down accentuated the slimness of his figure to the delight of Sargent, who draped the coat even more closely about him.

Sargent did not complete the portrait until after his return from France later in the year and had meanwhile seen for the first time Whistler's recently finished portrait of Comte Robert de Montesquiou, on exhibition at the Paris Salon. He was afraid that people would remark on the coincidental similarity in pose adopted by the two artists. An oil sketch on canvas, 36×28 in. (painted area, 15 1/2×28 in.), for this portrait was discovered under another canvas of ‘Mrs Russell Cooke’ (R.A. 1895 (647)) in August 1964 and lent anonymously to Birmingham Art Gallery, September–October 1964 (hors catalogue).

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II