Description: Born in Italy to American parents, John Singer Sargent was seen as a prodigy from his very arrival in Paris as a young art student in 1874. By 1880, when he painted his friend, the Chilean diplomat and amateur artist Ramón Subercaseaux, in a Venetian gondola, he was only twenty-four years old, but already attracting the notice of critics and art patrons in Europe and even the United States. Earlier that year, Subercaseaux commissioned Sargent to paint a more formal portrait of his wife, Amalia, in their Paris apartment.
The Dixon painting Ramón Subercaseaux in a Gondola is a charming vignette of Venetian tourism in the late nineteenth century, but it also affords a view into Sargent’s broad and diverse circle of friends and acquaintances. In addition to being an amateur artist and poet, Subercaseaux was the Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs, allowing him to travel throughout Europe as cosmopolitan ambassadors for their country. In this colorful painting, Sargent sketched his friend while he in turn was scrutinized and sketched himself. The work offers an intriguing window into artistic process as we see Subercaseaux as simultaneously maker and subject.