John Singer Sargent, American, 1856-1925
Title: The Bead-stringers of Venice
Date: 1880-1882
Medium: Oil on canvas
56 x 82 cm
Signed: lower centre: John S. Sargent
Credit Line: Bequeathed, Valentine Lawless, Baron Cloncurry, 1929
Object Number: NGI.921
DescriptionSargent found recording Venice in watercolour and oil relaxing compared to the demands of his portraiture work in London. On visits to the narrow alleys or calle of the poorer areas of the city, he often made studies of girls at work. This scene retains a spontaneity that is lacking from some of the more carefully posed courtyard and interior oils; the secondary figures are only blocked in, and the work has the suggestive feeling of a sketch.
The process of stringing beads involved gathering them onto wires from a small wooden trough placed on the knees. This cannot precisely be seen here, however. One girl reaches into a pouch, and a second has her hand raised. They face the open door of a shop and what would have been a third figure, now lost by the insertion of a piece of roughly painted canvas. Sargent was seemingly dissatisfied with this part and cut it out. The painting is inscribed as a gift to the Honourable Valentine Lawless, who later became Baron Cloncurry. An intermittent sculptor and collector, he requested the canvas from Sargent and had it repaired.

March 2016
ProvenanceArtist; Valentine Lawless, Lord Clonburry; bequeathed, Valentin Lawless, Lord Cloncurry, 1929
Exhibition HistoryCentenary Exhibition, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, October - December 1964

Venice Re-discovered, Wildenstein, London, 1972

Venezia nel'Ottocento e mita, 1983-1984

Venice: The American View 1860-1920, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 1985

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo, 26 January - 23 February 1989; The Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art, Yamaguchi, 2 March - 2 April 1989; The Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art, Kumamoto, 8 April - 7 May 1989; The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, 13 May - 11 June 1989

Impressions of Venice, Museum of the North, Llanberis, 25 July - 20 September 1992; National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, 3 October - 15 November 1992

Venice: From a State to a Myth, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, 30 August - 30 November 1997

Gondola Days: Isabella Stewart Gardner and the Palazzo Barbaro Circle, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, 21 April - 15 August 2004

Shades of Grey: Painting without Colour, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 22 June - 29 September 2013
Label TextSargent is renowned for his sophisticated society portraits. This picture, however, is one of a number that he painted depicting women at work in the narrow streets of Venice. The women sit in the shade, threading glass beads. By showing the figures from behind and at a distance, Sargent suggests that he recorded them with discretion. The sketchy finish reinforces the sense of naturalism. At one time, the artist removed a section of canvas from the right side of the picture. He later gave the painting to his friend Valentine Lawless, Lord Cloncurry, who had it repaired with an insertion.

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