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Gift ideas -- art, literature, books for children; Sargent gloriously displayed; Sargent, by Carter Ratcliff. New York: Abbeville Press. 254 pp. $85.

John Singer Sargent is the American Gainsborough, a portraitist whose luminous studies of artistocrats and arrivists made him one of the most popular painters of the late 19th century. Never have Sargent's talents been so gloriously displayed as they are here. This edition is a stunner, a book as satisfyingly extravagant as a Sargent portrait. Boasting 338 illustrations, 113 of which are in color, it chronicles Sargent's artistic development, the lifelong refinement of his ''relentlessly elegant eye.''

Throughout his life, Sargent was haunted by the epithet "clevew." Examining his portraits, watercolors and murals, Carter Ratcliff dashes this generalization. Arguing that Sargent was a staunch modern individualist, he reevaluates the artist's legend.

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