Neville Cain

John S. Sargent


Not on display

Neville Cain 1855–1935
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 410 × 330 mm
Presented by A. Heseltine 1924


Painted by the American artist Neville Cain, John S. Sargent is a small oil portrait of the artist John Singer Sargent, showing his head and shoulders in three-quarter view. The sitter’s dark hair and jacket blend with the black background, such that the collar and placket of Sargent’s cerulean shirt are the only discernible elements of his clothing. By contrast, the sitter’s face is rendered as if strongly lit from the left and the effect of this chiaroscuro concentrates the viewer’s attention on Sargent’s direct and penetrating gaze. The portrait is inscribed in the lower right hand corner with the artist’s name and the location in which it was painted: ‘N. Cain | Paris’.

A label in French affixed to the back of the portrait reveals that it was ‘Made in the atelier Carolus-Duran by Nevil-Cain [sic] American artist of St Louis United States of America in 1874 or 1875. Given to Arthur Heseltine’. At that time Cain was under the tutelage of society painter Carolus-Duran, an acclaimed portraitist in Paris who ran an atelier popular with American and British students. Cain’s portrait of fellow student John Singer Sargent is painted in the impressionist style favoured by Carolus-Duran, who encouraged his students to adopt progressive painting methods. Rather than building up the composition from careful drawing and underpainting, Carolus-Duran espoused an ‘alla prima’ technique, which involves working directly onto the canvas with a loaded brush. According to the curator Barbara Dayer Gallati, Sargent was a favoured student of Carolus-Duran among their cohort (Gallati 2015, p.6), and unlike Cain he went on to become an acclaimed portraitist, with many of his later works entering the Tate collection (see Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885–6, Tate N01615, and Ellen Terry as Macbeth 1889, Tate N02053).

During his time training at the atelier, Cain appears to have been particularly friendly with Sargent: a sketch Sargent made of Cain in 1877 is included in the collection of the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cain also drew caricatures of many members of Carolus-Duran’s studio, which were assembled by Sargent into a scrapbook that can also be found in the collection of the Fogg Art Museum.

Once Cain had completed his studies in Paris in the late 1870s, he returned to the United States and turned his focus from painting towards illustration. He became a contributor to the Louisville Courier-Journal and wrote and illustrated several popular children’s books in a series called The Fairies’ Menagerie, which was published in New York in 1903.

Further reading
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, London 1981, p.91.
Heather Birchall and David Fraser Jenkins, ‘Is it Better to Buy Artists Young?: An Investigation of the Database of Modern Art at Tate’, British Art Journal, vol.6, no.3, Winter 2005, p.88.
Barbara Dayer Gallati, John Singer Sargent: Painting Friends, London 2015.

Phoebe Roberts
January 2017

Supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

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Catalogue entry

Neville Cain 1855-1935

N03993 John S. Sargent c.1875

Inscribed 'N. Cain | Paris' b.l.
Oil on canvas, 16 1/8 x 13 (41 x 33)
Presented by Arthur Heseltine 1924
Prov: Arthur Heseltine

John Singer Sargent, RA (1856-1925), the American portrait painter. A label on the back bears the inscription (in French): 'Made in the atelier Carolus-Duran by Nevil-Cain [sic] American artist of St Louis United States of America in 1874 or 1875. Given to Arthur Heseltine'. Sargent studied at the atelier Carolus-Duran (where Cain was a fellow-student) from 1874 to about 1879.

A similar-sized portrait by Cain of 'Richard Sargent Esq. of Boston' (a distant cousin, who was also an artist) was in the John S. Sargent sale at Christie's on 27 July 1925, lot 275, and was said in the catalogue to have been painted in Carolus-Duran's studio in 1875. Neville Cain also drew caricatures of many members of the studio and Sargent stuck them into a scrapbook which is now in the Fogg Art Museum at Cambridge, Mass.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.91, reproduced p.91


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