John Singer Sargent, R. A. (American, 1856-1925)
Property from the Estate of Joe and Lee Jamail
John Singer Sargent, R. A. (American, 1856-1925)

The Temple of Denderah

John Singer Sargent, R. A. (American, 1856-1925)
The Temple of Denderah
stamped with estate stamp, 'JSS' (on the reverse); inscribed in the artist's hand 'Sketch- Temple of Denderah/to be returned to London' (on a label the reverse)
oil on canvas
30 ½ x 25 ¼ in.
Painted in 1891.
The artist.
His estate sale; Christie's, London, 24 July 1925, lot 101.
Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham (1850-1946), London, acquired at the above sale.
His estate sale; Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1957, lot 126.
Mr. Twinning.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 14 December 1960, lot 155.
with Bernard Black Gallery, New York, acquired at the above sale.
Anonymous sale; Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 8 October 1963, lot 57.
Joseph H. Hirschhorn (1899-1981), by 1963.
By whom gifted to the Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1966.
Their sale; Sotheby's; New York, 1 December 1988, lot 189.
Frazzini/Mills Collection, New York
with Adelson Galleries, New York, by 1994.
with Meredith Long & Co., Houston, Texas, by 1995.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner.
W. H. Downes, John S. Sargent, His Life and Work, Boston, 1925, pp. 35, 167.
E. Charteris, John Sargent, New York, 1927, p. 287, with incorrect date.
C. M. Mount, John S. Sargent, New York, 1955, p. 447, no. K911.
John Singer Sargent, His Own Work, Coe Gallery and Wittenborn Art Books, New York, 1980.
R. Ormond and E. Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent, Figures and Landscapes (1883-1899), Complete Paintings, Volume V, New Haven and London, 2010, p. 222, no. 919.
Boston, Copley Hall, Paintings and Sketches by John S. Sargent, R.A., 20 February - 13 March 1899, no. 87, as Sketch of the Temple of Denderah.
London, Royal Academy, Royal Academy Winter Exhibition, 1926, of Works by the Late John S. Sargent, R.A., 14 January - 13 March 1926, no. 564.
Southampton, NY, Southhampton College, June - September 1965.

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Lot Essay

John Singer Sargent’s journey to Egypt was conceived as part of the campaign for the Boston Public Library mural project. The possibility of a first-hand study of the art and architecture of ancient Egypt fired the artist’s imagination and he looked forward to the trip with great anticipation. Details of his actual movement in the Near East are not complete but it is known that Sargent took a studio in Cairo and he probably spent most of his sojourn in the Hotel de Nil. It was in Cairo that Sargent met up with Joseph Farquharson, a painter known for his Egyptian scenes and in late January of 1891, the two artists took a steamer down the Nile.
Sargent visited all the ancient sites, including the ruins of Abydos, the great temples of Luxor and Karnak at Thebes, the Valley of the Kings, the Colossi of Memnon, the Hypostyle of Esreh, the Temple of Edfu and the Temple of Hathor at Denderah, which is the subject of the present work.
There are few paintings and or drawings of the specific sites, although it is clear that this trip had an enormous impact on the realization of the Boston Public Library project as well as the artist’s oeuvre in general. The Temple at Denderah is one of the few oil paintings from this trip. We know that Sargent had two sketchbooks with him, and there are some quickly executed drawings of the Temple in the collection of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard.
At the end of the 19th century, the Temple of Hathor at Denderah was one of the most popular and best known of the Egyptian temples. It is relatively late in date, from the Ptolemic period, and it is dedicated to the goddess Hathor, patron of trees, sacred cow, goddess of the sky and protector of the dead. Hathor is also associated with female virtues because of her love of dance, music and wine. Artists were captivated by its grandeur and state of preservation and it was recorded in paintings, drawings and prints by artists throughout Europe (fig. 1).
This is one of the few temples that Sargent chose to record on canvas. It is painted from the entrance hall, or Hypostyle, looking towards the inner chambers. Two pairs of twelve columns line the Hypostyle, all adorned with capitals in the shape of a sistrum representing the head of the Goddess. Sargent has combined a dedication to architectural integrity with a sense of mystery and an acknowledgment of the mystical rites performed on the site. The columns are brought up close to the picture plane, thereby emphasizing their massive and imposing size and the darkened entrance, criss-crossed with visible brushstrokes, that dominates the center of the composition is slightly sinister. The monotone palette further enhances the subdued and reverent ambiance of the temple and also echoes the tones of the desert which surrounds the temple complex. The only relief in the picture is the silvery clear light falling through the columns, created by the absolute master of light and texture.
The Temple at Denderah boasts a complete and distinguished provenance. It was purchased from Sargent’s estate sale in 1925 by Sir Frank Swettenham, who was a friend of the artist and served as the first Resident General of the Federated Malay States and was himself painted by Sargent in 1904 (fig. 2). It was purchased by Josph Hirshhorn at auction in 1963 and remained a part of the permanent collection of the Hirshhorn Museum until it was deaccessioned and sold in 1988.

(fig. 1) Print after D. Roberts R.A., View from under the Portico of the Great Temple of Dendera.

(fig. 2) J.S. Sargent, Sir Frank Swettenham, 1904. National Portrait Gallery, London, UK. © Stefano Baldini / Bridgeman Images.

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