Artsy Insight: John Singer Sargent, Reluctant Portraitist

John Singer Sargent, born this day in 1856, may have been best known for his high society portraits, but they were the works he least enjoyed creating. “I hate to paint portraits,” he once said. As Sargent’s celebrity grew in London, so too did the requests for portraits; he began to travel more frequently, particularly to Venice, which he had so loved as a young student. “I have now got a bombproof shelter into which I retire when I sniff the coming portrait or its trajectory,” he said of his frequent escapes from London. It was on these journeys that he painted many of his delicate, lesser-known watercolors, such as Rio dei Mendicanti, Venice.