As noted by two of Sargent's biographers: "Charles-Emile-Auguste Durand (1838-1917), styled Carolus-Duran, was a painter and teacher whose methods profoundly affected the young Sargent. Born in Lille, he [Carolus Duran] studied at the Académie Suisse in Paris, in Italy, and in Spain where he encountered the paintings of Velázquez...He developed a style incorporating his early realism with aspects of the work of Velázquez and Hals, and reflecting a popular Impressionist more palatable to public taste. He became part of the Parisian artistic establishment, was one of the founders of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, 1889, and president, 1898." (R. Ormond and E. Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: The Early Portraits, vol. I, New Haven, Connecticut, 1998, p. 43)
Sargent entered the atelier of Carolus-Duran in 1874, having been encouraged by fellow artist, Walter Launt Palmer. Sargent writes in a letter dated May 23, 1874: "My friend says M. Durand takes more interest in each of his pupils and that his atelier is less crowded and contains more gentlemanly scholars that is the case with the others, so that I dare say I shall go to that atelier rather than to Geromes [sic] or Cabanel's...Besides I admired Durand's pictures immensely in the salon, and he is considered one of the greatest french [sic] artists..." (H.B. Weinberg, The Lure of Paris: Nineteenth-Century American Painters and Their French Teachers, New York, 1991, p. 206) The close friendship and admiration Sargent felt for his teacher resulted in the 1879 Portrait of Carolus-Duran (Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts), of which the present drawing is one of two known studies. The portrait was considered a major success, regarded highly by critics and colleagues alike, and a significant achievement in Sargent's career that produced further portrait commissions.
The present work bears a faint grid of graphite lines, suggesting that this drawing may have been a final study used to transfer the work to canvas.
This work will be included in the forthcoming John Singer Sargent catalogue raisonné by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, in collaboration with Warren Adelson and Elizabeth Oustinoff.