El Jaleo (1882) by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

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The painting El Jaleo (1882) by John Singer Sargent made the artist’s reputation when it was first exhibited at the 1882 Paris Salon. The enormous canvas (237×352 cm) that depicts a flamenco performance became an overnight sensation with French audiences and critics. 

El Jaleo (1882) by John Singer Sargent

The painting is an example of Hispanism, an intricate 19th-century phenomenon in Europe and the United States that refers to a widespread fascination with everything related to Spanish culture. Hispanism had a pervasive influence in different fields. Some famous examples include literary works by Theophile Gautier and Washington Irving, and George Bizet’s opera Carmen that premiered in Paris in 1875. However, for Sargent, who spent the autumn of 1879 in Spain, the subject of flamenco was more than a fashion choice. The trip to Spain was a formative experience: he copied works of old Spanish masters at the Prado Museum and made live sketches of folk dancers. While traveling through Southern Spain, he observed flamenco performances and became particularly fond of Andalusian Gypsy music. Thus, the choice of subject for El Jaleo was likely a combination of the growing market for exotic imagery and the artist’s admiration for Spanish music and dance. 

The title El Jaleo refers to the uproar during the performance, when the audience encourages the dancers by clapping and chanting over the guitar music. The artist painted El Jaleo three years after his trip to Spain in a studio in France with the help of professional models, costumes and props. Even though Sargent’s models were neither dancers nor Spaniards, the artist used his memories and knowledge of flamenco to capture an authentic atmosphere of dynamic performance. In this painting, the arrangement of figures conforms to the traditional presentation of flamenco. The performance is set on a small stage, and the dancer has other performers behind her in a line or a semicircle, leaving her little room to move. This setting also allows the musicians to follow the tempo set by the dancer as they play the accompanying music. 

In producing El Jaleo Sargent worked methodically to achieve the spontaneity and drama of flamenco. He created many sketches and also the preparatory painting Spanish Dancer (1882). The dancer’s contorted pose is one of the most complex elements, that demonstrates the mastery of the flamenco technique and style. In the same way, the sketch Head and hands of seated musicians (1888) is part of the preliminary studies for the singer on the dancer’s right. The singer is caught amid a moving performance with his mouth wide open and his head thrown back. 

After the Salon in Paris, El Jaleo was sold to Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, a retired American diplomat. In 1914, Coolidge gave the painting to his good friend Isabella Stewart Gardner – a leading American art collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. The painting was the centerpiece of the music room at the Gardener home in Boston, and today it remains in the city hanging at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

The Salon (French: Salon), or rarely Paris Salon (FrenchSalon de Paris [salɔ̃ də paʁi]), beginning in 1667 was the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Between 1748 and 1890 it was arguably the greatest annual or biennial art event in the Western world.

Flamenco (Spanish pronunciation: [flaˈmeŋko]), in its strictest sense, is an art form based on the various folkloric music traditions of southern Spain in the autonomous community of Andalusia and Murcia. In a wider sense, the term is used to refer to a variety of Spanish musical styles.

Flamenco is a difficult form of art which transmits passion in each of its three components: song, dance and music. It is also a living art which represents a way of perceiving and interpreting life. Because of this, it needs to be continually updated in Spain. … Flamenco and Spanish dance.

The Paradores of Andalusia recognize flamenco as a form of storytelling. … Thestory is so powerful, that in order to be fully understood, it should be told through the body and music. According to the Andalusian people, these stories have been passed down through generations of human experience.

The roots of flamenco, though somewhat mysterious, seem to lie in the Roma migration from Rajasthan (in northwest India) to Spain between the 9th and 14th centuries. These migrants brought with them musical instruments, such as tambourines, bells, and wooden castanets, and an extensive repertoire of songs and dances. In Spain they encountered the rich cultures of the Sephardic Jews and the Moors. Their centuries-long cultural intermingling produced the unique art form known as flamenco.

E&P by Ezorrilla



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