image from artrenewal.org
I think I will write for a while about some passages in the paintings of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). I have lots of books about Sargent and have always loved his art, but I am not a Sargent scholar. There are lots of people out there who know far more about Sargent than I do, but I will try to present something useful. One of the side effects of this blog is that I study the subject matter as I write about it. I try to write in brief and hopefully informative snippets, sometimes I pretend I am writing the text for a baseball card or a caption to go under a photograph in a coffee table book.
I intend to highlight some passages from various Sargent paintings and talk about what I think is going on in them. I suppose I will follow that up with a biography of John Sargent. I will probably be on this for a while, but I will break it up by inserting some other subjects for a few days at a time as I go along.
Sargent was a consummate technician and his handling is about as fine as anyone who ever wielded a brush. Sargents teacher was Carolus-Duran who was a hotshot portrait painter in Paris. Duran taught what was a revolutionary method at the time. Rather than the academic method taught in most of the ateliers in Paris at the time , Duran taught using a more direct straight paint method he acquired principally from studying the works of Diego Velazquez, the great Spanish painter. This method was more direct than the common studio techniques taught in ateliers belonging to the other artists of the day, such as Gerome who taught an orderly approach that began with a pencil drawing and a monotone underpainting . The Duran method emphasized bold brushwork and simplified and summary description based on the forms as described by direct strokes of paint and accented with glowing touches of shadow and painterly effects with lots of lost and found edges. I will show some of that in the posts that will follow. Here is a portrait of Juan De Pareja by Velazquez.
The painting at the top of the page was painted by Sargent at the age 23 in 1879. It was both a tribute to his teacher and an advertisement for portrait commissions, many of which followed.
Working first in France and then later in England, Sargent established himself as the premier portrait painter of the gilded age. The wealthy paid the equivalent of 125 to 150 thousand in today's money for one of his portraits and he had more work than he could do. He was fabulously prolific and the museums of the world are filled with his portraits of presidents, royalty, and their families.