Dicky Umfraville talks about the artistic aspirations of his ex-wife, Lady Anne Stepney, but adds that he, himself, “Can’t tell a Sargent from a ‘Snaffles.’” (ATM p 181)
A snaffle is a common type of horse bit. ‘Snaffles’ was Charles Johnson Payne (1884-1967), who worked as a graphic artist during World War I but after the war, concentrated on prints of sports: hunting, polo, fishing, pig-sticking in India, racing. The example shown below, from a Lawrences Auctioneers catalog, shows some of Snaffles characteristics, like a penciled signature and a humorous caption. An impressed mark of a pair of interlocking snaffles, often part of his print borders, is reportedly present, but we cannot see it on this reproduction.
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was prolific, producing over 900 oils, over 2000 watercolors, and numerous drawings. He was born in Florence to American parents, studied in Paris, and spent much of his life painting in London. His portraits of the rich and famous were in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. This portrait of one of his patrons, Isabella Stewart Gardner, showed so much flesh that her husband asked her not to display it publicly while he was alive. We have highlighted a watercolor of horses to show how his elegant realism contrasted with Snaffles’ jocularity. Umfraville’s mot is the only mention of the Sargent in Dance, so we know nothing of Powell’s opinion of him. Rodin called him “the Van Dyck of our time;” (John Singer Sargent: The Early Portraits, 1998, p 150), but others preferred the Modernism that figures so prominently in Dance rather than Sargent’s realism. Roger Fry called the work “wonderful indeed, but most wonderful that this wonderful performance should ever have been confused with that of an artist.” Ivan Kenneally, writing for an exhibit of Sargent watercolors at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, examines Sargent’s relation to Modernism and puts Fry’s put down to rest.