Carolus-Duran was among the most celebrated portrait painters working in Paris in the 1870s. With his casual pose and elegant clothing, he is presented as a dandy or fashionable man-about-town. On his lapel he wears the red pin of the French Legion of Honour, awarded for his contribution to the arts. Sargent studied with Carolus-Duran, launching his own career by exhibiting this portrait to great acclaim. Along the top, he added an inscription paying homage to his teacher and describing himself as an “affectionate pupil.”

John Singer Sargent was born in 1856 in Florence, where his family remained until 1874. Following a childhood interest in drawing, he began his formal art education in Rome in 1869 and continued in Florence at the Accademia di Belle Arti from 1873 to 1874. In May of that year, Sargent’s family moved to Paris so that he could receive advanced training. He was quickly accepted into the studio of Carolus-Duran (born Charles-Emile-Auguste Durant, 1838—1917) and soon became one of the master’s star pupils.

Sargent was drawn to the studio of Carolus-Duran by its pleasant atmosphere, its international nature with many foreign students, its flexibility when compared with the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and especially Carolus-Duran’s success and popularity. Trained at the Académie Suisse, Carolus-Duran had also studied in Italy and Spain. A portrait of his wife, admitted to the Paris Salon of 1869, launched his career as one of the preeminent portraitists of Paris. He opened his studio in 1873, and, while his career declined through the 1880s, his importance in the art world increased. In 1889 he was a founding member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and its president in 1898. He was named a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1872 and was made a grand officer in 1900. In 1905 he became director of the French Academy in Rome.

In his studio Carolus-Duran did not follow the curriculum of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, which stressed drawing as the foundation of good art. He taught that painting was of supreme importance. [This image] of Carolus-Duran sums up all that Sargent learned from him: the informality of the portrait; the combination of elegance and realism; the contrast between the highlighted face and hands and the thinly painted dark background, and their contrast as well with the freely painted torso. These elements all combine to make this youthful work a masterful balance between psychological depth and bravura technique. The lessons that Sargent had learned and combined so successfully at the age of twenty-three, based on direct observation and the economical use of paint, would serve him throughout his career.

—Steven Kern, excerpted from The Clark: Selections from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Steven Kern et al. (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1996), p. 114.


To Emile-Auguste Carolus-Duran, 1879; to Mr. Rougeron;* to Emile-Auguste Carolus-Duran; (Pierre and Co., Paris); to (M. Knoedler & Co., Paris, December 17, 1919); to Robert Sterling Clark, December 31, 1919.    

*It seems that Carolus-Duran used the painting as collateral for a loan from Mr. Rougeron in the early 1880s. The story is recounted in Robert Sterling Clark's diary, January 29, 1929, when Rougeron's son saw the picture in Mr. Clark's New York home.

John Singer Sargent

American, 1856–1925



Oil on canvas

46 x 37 13/16 in. (116.8 x 96 cm) Frame: 59 x 50 1/8 x 3 in. (149.9 x 127.3 x 7.6 cm)

Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1919




Conrads, Margaret C. American Paintings and Sculpture at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990.

Tinterow, Gary and Geneviève Lacambre. Manet/Valázquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting. Exhibition catalogue. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press, 2003.