Imagine this painting, over seven and a half feet tall, and over eleven feet wide, at the end of a dimly but dramatically lit hallway of arches, just off a luscious courtyard. That is where this painting hangs in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, one of my favorite places in the world. El Jaleo took my breath away the first time I saw it. I didn't know who the artist was at the time, but John Singer Sargent was my first guess, because something about the severity of her posture, the striking contrast of the black and white, reminded me of Sargent's most famous piece, Madame X.
This notorious portrait was a scandal when first displayed. Her right dress strap initially hung suggestively off her shoulder and many critics considered the work too erotic. Although later considered by Sargent and others to be one of his greatest works, it was the first painting displayed by the artist to receive negative reviews. Sargent was one of the most famous portrait artists of his time and his ability to capture not just a likeness, but a personality, is striking. The realism displayed in his portraits, including two charcoal sittings shown below, is astounding, but I find so much more to admire in his work than his technical mastery.
Even this sketch which probably took no longer than the blink of an eye successfully captures enough essential information to clearly identify the subject. I suppose I love Sargent's work because it is what I strive for my work to be like: realistic but with passion, intrigue, and energy.
 Sargent, John Singer. El Jaleo. 1882. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Web. 6 Oct 2014.
 Sargent, John Singer. Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau). 1883-84. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web. 6 Oct 2014.
 Sargent, John Singer. William Butler Yeats. 1908. Private Collection. Print . 5 Oct 2014.
 Sargent, John Singer. Dame Ethel Smyth. 1901. National Portrait Gallery, London. Print . 5 Oct 2014.
 Sargent, John Singer. San Giuseppe di Castello, Venice. about 1903. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Web. 6 Oct 2014.
 Sargent, John Singer. From Jerusalem. 1905-6. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web. 6 Oct 2014.
 Sargent, John Singer. Self-Portrait. late 1880's? Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University. Print . 5 Oct 2014.
 Sargent, John Singer. Sargent Portrait Drawings : 42 Works by John Singer Sargent. Dover Art Library. Ed. Fairbrother, Trevor J. New York: Dover, 1983. Print.
 "John Singer Sargent." Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2014. Web. 6 Oct 2014.