John Singer Sargent: Smoke of Ambergris

Smoke of Ambergris: John Singer Sargent

Smoke of Ambergris (or Fumee d’Ambre Gris in French) by Impressionist artist John Singer Sargent shows a woman wearing a broad-rimmed hat inhaling ambergris. The picture, which was begin in Morocco in 1880 during Sargent’s travels across the Middle East and North Africa, is painted in the Realist style.

Ambergris is a substance extracted from whales and was said to have aphrodisiac qualities as well as being used in rituals. The picture seems to centralize both functions in the standing woman.

John Singer Sargent’s Smoke of Ambergris is in the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts.

2 thoughts on “Smoke of Ambergris: John Singer Sargent”

  1. I love this painting and just saw it again at the Clark. It looks like the woman has nail polish on, but that seems unlikely for the time period it was painted. How would you explain that?

    1. Teresa Gillespie

      It is most likely henna. Arab women mix henna powder with water and then put the paste on hands, feet and hair to dye it.

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