Portrait commissions may have allowed John Singer Sargent to make a name for himself, but we know that he eventually grew tired of that work despite being in great demand as a portraitist for upper crust aristocrats. If you do a Google Image Search of John Singer Sargent you’re bombarded with painting after painting of affluent men and women posing stiffly in their elegant clothes, gazing straight at the viewer, their airs of superiority wafting off the canvases.

Recently I came across a Sargent portrait that stood out from the others and I suspected that it wasn’t a commissioned work. After a few minutes of research I discovered that it was, in fact, not a commission. Sargent created it purely from the inspiration he felt from the subject, not because he was contracted to do so. She was Mabel Batten, born Mabel Veronica Hatch in Great Britain in 1856. Like most of Sargent’s circle, Mabel was a member of the high society class but she was also an accomplished mezzo-soprano, composer, trained musician and patroness of the arts. Sargent painted this portrait depicting her in the euphoric throes of singing, with eyes closed, mouth open, and those trademark Sargent painterly brushstrokes on the dress. Mabel is in a full blown musical trance here:

And no that’s not some sloppy cropping on my part. Sargent deliberately cut off the arms in an ingenious composition choice which creates greater intimacy and intensity. Also, I like the gesture of her left hand on her hip. Nice touch.

This Music Monday post continues with more female songstress exultation. The word ‘cantrix’, by the way, means a female singer, as my Latin language obsession pokes through from time to time. I posted back in December about my niece Olivia’s original music and I’m thrilled to report that she continues to kick ass 🙂 Her latest single is Sapphire and I would be honored if my readers had a listen to this outstanding song. Really, it’s outstanding! This girl is on a roll. Ms Mabel would love this, and you will too. Here’s Olivia Paris:

9 thoughts on “Cantrix

  1. Dave says:

    What a lovely portrait of a talented, confident woman doing her thing! I’ve seen lots of Sargents hanging in museums, but I’ve never admired one as much as this one. You never cease to amaze me not only by finding wonderful, under-appreciated pieces of art, but also in telling the stories behind them.

    • artmodel says:


      The stories behind paintings are worth discovering! All of them are not necessarily interesting, but the ones that are reveal more about both the model and the artist. I’m so glad you enjoyed this painting and post!

      Thanks for your comments and kind words 🙂


  2. Of course I am being fairly rude and crude by saying this, but she also looks fairly orgasmic . . .

  3. Abe says:


    That song from Olivia is out of this world! She has a superb voice and its a really catchy tune. Thank you for sharing it.

    As to the Sargent painting, I was surprised to learn that Mebel’s arms were actually missing in the original painting. I was sure they had been cropped out! You are right- it does add a lot to the overall effect of the painting.

    After reading this post, I googled John Singer Sargent. I noticed that during both the beginning and end of his career he focused more on landscapes and other subjects then portraits as you pointed out. He only took up portraits because that was the way to achieve fame and advance his career in those times. It was at the beginning of the twentieth century that he wearied of portraits and reverted back to his real interests. I just found it interesting to see the balance between the work that he was actually interested in versus work that he did not really care for yet was vital for his successs. Mrs. George Batten Singing was painted at the end of the nineteenth century. Perhaps this painting might be a symbol of Sargent’s imminent fallout from portraiture.

    I also noticed that Sargent abonded the traditional academic approach to painting of pre-sketches and underpainting in favor of directly applying paint to the canvas. I was wondering if this style of painting might contribute to the excitement that the painting exudes.

    • artmodel says:


      Thank you for listening to Olivia’s song! She’s so talented, isn’t she? Yes, her voice is fantastic and her songwriting is maturing more and more. I’m so proud of her!

      Your Sargent research is great! If you haven’t already, Google his watercolors from Venice, Morocco, and other locales during his travels. They’re incredible, and I see them as good examples of work he did from his own interest and inspiration. I don’t blame him for tiring of portraiture, specifically the portraiture he was was doing of a particular social class – all rich, all well-dressed, all people who never worked a day in their lives. It gets tiresome. At least Mabel had talent and charisma.

      I have heard artists discuss Sargent’s painting techniques, like you described, the ‘direct painting’ method. No doubt that creates a look of freshness and immediacy. It’s been said that he started with middle tones and then added from there, but an artist friend of mine says he worked from dark to light. So I really don’t know. Whatever he did, it was certainly effective!

      Thanks so much for your great comments! Much appreciated.


      • Abe says:

        So I just checked out some of Sargent’s watercolor work and I must say as you pointed out, they truly are a departure from his previous lackluster and austere portraits. They are full of life, bursting with color, and they depict a wide range of subjects. Apparently Sargent’s method for painting watercolors was quite revolutionary as well as it garnered the surprise and acclaim of his critics and colleagues.

  4. Bill says:

    I don’t ever remember seeing that Sargent — good find!

    I think that Olivia’s song is really quite good. Is she thinking in terms of working live yet?

    • artmodel says:


      Glad you like the Sargent! The guy was prolific. Also glad that you liked Olivia’s song! Right now she focusing on composing songs and recording them in the studio, but I know that live performing is in her plans.

      Thanks for your comments!


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