John Singer Sargent's Egyptian Girl
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Egyptian Girl 
Private collection on loan to  
the Art Institute of Chicago 
Oil on canvas 
185.4 x 58.4 cm (73 x 23 in.) 
 Jpg: John Singer Sargent's Exotics

The nude Egyptian Girl, I believe, is the only female nude that Sargent did in oil. As the name implies, the painting was done in Egypt on his trip there to do research for the Boston Public Library murals. In some ways it harks back to the Velazquez's Venus at her Mirror. Like Sargent, this was Velazquez's only female nude and both men paint their subject facing away. Although it is not known for sure that Venus at her Mirror was the painting that influenced Sargent's Egyptian Girl, the importance of Velazquez work in influencing Sargent's art is well documented and if it wasn't on his mind, the coincidences are remarkable. Notice, particularly, the very delicate modulation of skin color in Sargent's painting which Velazquez used as well. 

In any regards, Sargent knew he needed to paint a great female nude in order to demonstrate his virtuosity; and without it, his oeuvre would remain  incomplete. From a long line of Great Masters, from a long line of paintings of the female nude, Sargent gives us his submission to the discourse. The public  embraced it whole heartedly -- both at the New English Art Club exhibition of 1891, and at the World Columbian Exposition, Chicago of 1893.  

At seventy-three inches high, or slightly over six feet tall, this is not just a study, but an adroit statement. 

by Natasha Wallace 
Copyright 2000   All rights reserved 

From: Francesca Miller
<franc esca.>
Date: Sun, 26 Dec 2004

The Nude Egyptian Girl

Was she a slave, a servant, a child sold into sexual bondage or the concubine of a wealthy man?  Perhaps this ravishing adolescent with the golden skin and nubile curves was an urchin Sargent approached on a Cairo street. Is it possible that upon her initial encounter with the master that this nameless girl was taken with his charm and innate kindness?  From the sweet reverie of her expression, she had no fear about posing nude for this cultivated gentleman who addressed her with a gentility usually reserved for wellborn European women.  The model possesses a sensuality and self-assurance remarkable in one so young: yet, as the beauty with the tawny skin absent-mindedly braids her coiling hair, there is an adolescent innocence and yes, nobility in her nakedness. Sargent found a patrician essence in this child that made this painting far more arresting then a vapid society portrait.  The uncovered majesty of this girl is far more aristocratic than that any London matron garbed in the finest satins and velvets.

The Egyptian Nude Girl is also a study in Sargent, for instead of painting a study of a demimonde in a Parisian salon, he choice a young woman of color for his female nude. Since Sargent viewed Victorian concepts of race and ethnicity with distaste and derision, it was natural that two of his most notable nude studies were of people of color.  Approximately thirty years later, the master
Nude Study of Thomas McKellerused his magical brushes to paint his Nude Study of Thomas McKeller, a muscular Bostonian who coincidently was a person of color. McKeller posed unselfconsciously in a full frontal posture while Victorian propriety dictated that our Egyptian beauty stand with her back towards us.  Perhaps in light of recent analysis of the master’s sexuality, some might consider that since her pose lacked “the exultant nakedness of McKeller’s” evidence of a dimmer erotic energy for his female subjects. Still, those of us who are transformed and transfixed by the work of the master bow to voluptuous mystery and quiet sensuality conveyed by a hint of bosom and bronzed, rounded buttocks.  Her name maybe lost to us but she is now immortal.

Special thanks to Francesca Miller, of California, a friend of the JSS Gallery.

Venus at her Mirror
National Gallery, London 
Oil on canvas
122.5 x 177 cm 

By:  Natasha Wallace
Copyright 1998-2005 all rights reserved



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