Sargent painted this portrait of Ambrogio Raffele (1845–1928) at the Simplon Pass in Switzerland. As the title suggests, Raffele, keen-sighted and inwardly ruminating, is selecting a vista to paint from the splendid alpine panorama. The picture is a tribute to an artist whom Sargent admired and whose friendship he valued. Raffele was somewhat in awe of Sargent’s celebrity, but the two became devoted companions, sharing a love of the mountains and an enthusiasm for painting outdoors. Raffele was a frequent model and also appears in An Artist in His Studio.
Here, Raffele clasps his painting box to his chest, as if he is about to open it up and set to work. He is poised on the edge of a plunging descent to a valley below. Pyramid shaped and massive, he echoes the form of the mountains behind him, the very emblem of creative force and energy of purpose.