John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925) was an American painter and portraitist born in Florence. Being from an expatriate family, Sargent spent his childhood in a very much cosmopolitan environment, growing up in a variety of different European cities. From a young age, Sargent's mother encouraged him to paint. Sargent went on to study painting in Italy and France, including specifically in Florence when he enrolled in the Academia delle belle arte. While he is considered by many to be one the greatest portraitists of his time, he also painted landscapes inspired by his travels throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.
In 1866 when he was a child, Sargent met Vernon Lee (who was of a similar age). They met because their families were neighbors in Nice, France. Sargent and Vernon Lee both were from expatriate families and had interests in the arts (painting for Sargent and writing for Vernon Lee) and also bonded over their shared passion for music. During his adult life, Sargent frequently visited his dear friend Vernon in Florence at Il Palmerino. Among the many outstanding portraits Sargent created, he painted a portrait of Vernon Lee in 1881 that is now at the Tate Gallery. He also created a drawing of her. Sargent and Vernon Lee would remain close friends until his death in 1925. In her memorial of Sargent's life, Vernon Lee wrote the following:
But looking over the portfolios and portfolios of sketches, thinking of all the more elaborated
landscapes: Venice, Carrara Quarries, Alps, Architecture, and even such things as some divinely
exquisite silvery wooden palings against a green Tyrolese meadow, I recognize that his life was not
merely in painting, but in the more and more intimate understanding and enjoying the world
around him, and which the work of his incomparable hand enables some of us, also, to understand
and enjoy, if only in part.
As regards our friendship, I have sometimes regretted that, having started with such early intimacy,
I did not get, or try, to know John Sargent better. But, after all, what can be better than knowing a
great man, not in the details of his common personal existence, but in the impersonal feelings and
thoughts special to his greatness, and which he enabled us to share with him? (Vernon Lee, August
13th, XXV, Oxford)