Fumée d'ambre gris (Smoke of Ambergris) Slider Image 1
Fumée d'ambre gris (Smoke of Ambergris) Slider Image 2

John Singer Sargent

American, 1856–1925

Fumée d'ambre gris (Smoke of Ambergris)


A woman holds part of her elaborate garment over a silver censer to capture the perfumed smoke of smoldering ambergris. A waxy substance extracted from whales, ambergris was used in some religious rituals and was also said to have aphrodisiac qualities. Sargent began this painting in Tangier, with a model posed on the patio of a rented house, but he completed it in his Paris studio. The finished painting presents a fantasy for Western eyes, combining details of costume and setting adapted from different regions across North Africa.

Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions Unframed: 54 3/4 x 35 11/16 in. (139.1 x 90.6 cm) Framed: 64 1/2 x 45 1/2 x 3 in. (163.8 x 115.6 x 7.6 cm)
Object Number 1955.15
Acquisition Acquired by Sterling Clark, 1914
Status On Loan

Image Caption

John Singer Sargent, Fumée d'ambre gris (Smoke of Ambergris), 1880, Oil on canvas. Acquired by Sterling Clark, 1914. The Clark Art Institute, 1955.15.


Conrads, Margaret C. American Paintings and Sculpture at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990. Haverkamp-Begemann, Egbert, Standish D. Lawder, and Charles W. Talbot, Jr. Drawings from the Clark Art Institute: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Robert Sterling Clark Collection of European and American Drawings, Sixteenth Through Nineteenth Centuries, at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown. 2 volumes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964.


To unidentified Frenchman, 1880; (Broussod, Valdon et Cie., Paris); to (M. Knoedler & Co., Paris, July 6, 1914); to Robert Sterling Clark, September 10, 1914.