OIL PAINTING: A Nude Boy on a Beach, 1878
Sargent made a number of studies of his favorite model Rosina Ferrara, but also made this oil sketch of a nude boy which he used as a study for Boys on a Beach, Naples ("Innocence Abroad"), a group of four nudes exhibited in 1879 at the National Academy of Design in New York. Thinly painted onto panel, so the wood grain shows through around the periphery, the sketch has the immediacy of an informal study while also suggesting through its shadows and bleached sand the brilliance of the Capri sunlight. The naturalism of the pose is reminiscent of photographs of nude boys by Baron von Gloeden, Pliischow and others, who were themselves drawn to the exoticism of places such as Sicily, and it is tempting to imagine that Sargent's approach to his subject was informed by seeing such material. Certainly he was recorded as compiling an album of images of different ethnic types. Such photographs as Gloeden's were often openly homoerotic, and Capri itself was notable for its numbers of homosexual visitors, drawn by the romantic tale of Hadrian and Antinous, and the sexual availability of local young men, for a price.