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'Curiouser and Curiouser': John Singer Sargent's Cosmopolitan Aesthetics

Renes, Elizabeth (2015) 'Curiouser and Curiouser': John Singer Sargent's Cosmopolitan Aesthetics. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

In the introduction to her For Maurice: Five Unlikely Stories (1927), Vernon Lee recounts her childhood wonderings in Italy with a young John Singer Sargent, remarking: ‘…mysterious, uncanny, a wizard, serpent, sphinx; strange, weird, curious. Such, at all events, were the adjectives, the comparisons, with which we capped each other, my friend John and I… .’ Curious is, indeed, a curious term. This word and its associates - bizarre, strange, and exotic - appear habitually in the literature surrounding Sargent, including in critical reviews and personal letters. In the wider scope of the late nineteenth century, the term has an undeniable Aesthetic connotation, being used widely by Pater and Lee herself, most notably in Pater’s discussion of the Mona Lisa from his Leonardo essay of 1869. A previously unexplored letter from Sargent to Lee from 20 July 1881 includes a fascinating and little discussed reference to Pater, with Sargent stating, ‘Tell me what you think of Pater’s essays, I like one or two of them very much’ which, in combination with a letter from Lee to her mother in June of the same year, stating that, ‘he [Sargent] goes in for art for art’s sake’ implies a tantalizing thread of association. Did Sargent consider himself a member of the Aesthetic cult? If so, is it possible to read the often eccentric and enigmatic body of works produced in his early career, between 1878 and 1886, as being influenced by and acting as a response to Aesthetic texts? The aim of this dissertation is ultimately to answer with a resounding ‘yes’ by examining closely Sargent’s earliest works in order to assert that they were created, and performed in participation with many of the dialogues surrounding beauty and sensation in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: John Singer Sargent, Aestheticism, Cosmopolitanism, Criticism, Art History, Walter Pater, Vernon Lee, Henry James, Literature, Art, Charles Baudelaire.
Academic Units: The University of York > History of Art (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.647076
Depositing User: Ms Elizabeth Renes
Date Deposited: 15 May 2015 10:37
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2016 13:32
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/8817

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  • 'Curiouser and Curiouser': John Singer Sargent's Cosmopolitan Aesthetics. (deposited 15 May 2015 10:37) [Currently Displayed]

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