An expatriate American, he showed remarkable technical precocity as a painter. After studying with Carolus-Duran, he achieved a great reputation for his portraits, employing a style that could be seen as derived from Velázquez by way of Manet.
Moving in the circle of the Impressionists, he came to know most of them, and they reacted to his work in varying ways. Degas, as might have been expected, was brutally dismissive; Pissarro, in sending his son to see him in London, where Sargent spent the major part of his working life, described him as `an adroit performer'; but with Monet he had a close and mutually profitable relationship. In the 1880s he began to paint landscapes that were overtly Impressionist in technique and approach, despite a certain superficiality.
At this time he visited Monet at Giverny on several occasions, painting two memorable portraits of him: Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood (c.1885; Tate Gallery, London) and Claude Monet in his Bateau-Atelier (1887; National Gallery of Art, Washington). Although Monet was later to deny that Sargent was an Impressionist, this was unjust, especially in relation to some of his works in the 1880s and 1890s. Indeed, Sargent's technique for painting large canvases out of doors, as evinced in Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (1885-86; Tate Gallery, London), was to be of use to Monet in his larger compositions. Sargent persuaded Monet to exhibit at the New English Art Club, and at the Leicester Galleries in London.