El Jaleo 1882 John Singer Sargent, American, 1856-1925
Images likeEl Jaleo lean toward the daring, risky, unconventional, dramatic, erotically off-center, and odd. Because nomadic groups were believed to ignore ethical principles and exalted superstition over orthodox religion, they endured oppression in numerous countries during the nineteenth century, but artists and bohemians idealized them as free spirits. Bizet's operaCarmen, first performed in Paris in 1875, scandalized the public with its tale of a proud, lusty Andalusian protagonist torn between an army officer and a toreador.
During his travels in Spain in 1879, Sargent was mulling over a major work of art in which he could express his love of Romani music, dance, and picturesque costumes. On his return to Paris, he set to work on a wide horizontal picture whose proportions simulated the shallow stage space of popular musical establishments. He named the paintingEl Jaleoto suggest the name of a dance, thejaleo de jerez, while counting on the broader definition of jaleo,which includes ruckus or hubbub. The painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1882 with the more explicit titleEl Jaleo: Danse des gitanes(Dance of the Gypsies).
The best evidence of his own excited reactions to live dance performances can be found in the pencil sketches of a Spanish woman that he included in an album assembled for Isabella Stewart Gardner. They are among his fastest, most intuitive works. In one drawing, a torrent of fast hard lines suggests the twisting shawl from which a majestic neck and outstretched vamping arms emerge.
This exclusive set of playing cards features details from John Singer Sargent's El Jaleo, displayed prominently in the Spanish Cloister at Fenway.