American Paintings - 1 of 8

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Fumée d'Ambre Gris (Smoke of Ambergris)  by John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent
American, 1856-1925
Fumée d'Ambre Gris (Smoke of Ambergris)
Oil on canvas
139.1 x 90.6 cm
Acquired by Sterling Clark, 1914

Fumée d'Ambre Gris was painted after Sargent’s trip to North Africa in the winter of 1879-80. The painting depicts an exotically dressed woman inhaling the smoke of ambergris — a resinous substance found in tropical seawater. Ambergris was believed to ward off evil spirits and also served as an aphrodisiac. The painting is a mélange of North African details; the details of the costume and setting, however, come from different regions and social classes.

Great suites of paintings by Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent form the core of the American paintings collection, which also includes paintings by George Inness, Mary Cassatt, and Frederic Remington. The Clarks' love of the outdoors no doubt drew them to Homer, whose fascination with the power and beauty of nature can be seen in many of the oils and watercolors they assembled. The cosmopolitan Sargent, with his rich, painterly style, also became a favorite: the collection focuses primarily on his early career, when he was working in France, Italy, and North Africa.

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