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Title: 'Curiouser and curiouser' : John Singer Sargent's cosmopolitan aesthetics
Author: Renes, Elizabeth
ISNI:       0000 0004 5364 9620
Awarding Body: University of York
Current Institution: University of York
Date of Award: 2015
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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.
Supervisor: Prettejohn, Liz Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available