Tonight I want to continue pointing out Sargent's use of squared off planar representation of form. I grabbed a number of hands from our friends over there at artrenewal.org they are a help to me in the writing of this blog and I am very grateful to them for providing me with so many images. Their museum section has a wonderful selection of Sargents.
Above is hand by Sargent, look at the index finger in particular. Sargent has made it into a box. The top and the side planes are completely squared off. Sargent handles form like this a lot, but it is particularly obvious when he is painting hands and fingers (phalanges).
Sargent does this as I explained last night because form is easier to read in a faceted planar representation than in a cylinder or tubular representation. There are landmarks or edges where the different sides of the structure meet that our eye can easily read. On a spherical or tubular structure even though it be modeled and presented with light and shadow, halftone and highlight, there are no clear points of demarcation for our eye to seize on and understand.
I have heard another draftsmen in a figure group suggest that one should use nothing but straight lines in drawing the figure. I think that is an overstatement, but it must grow from the principle I stated above. In order to be most lovely from a design standpoint, a figure ought to be both planar and spherical shapes, waltzing together. An artful arrangement of both of these set one another off, the straight lines accenting and contrasting with the swelling and rounded forms.
Here again is the beautiful hand from the Carolus-Duran portrait. Was ever a hand painted better? Notice how the squareness is used to represent the knuckles and the styloid process of the ulna ( the the head of the bone of the wrist above the little finger).
Here is a perhaps unintentional example of the contrast of a spherical form with a planar one. This is the hand of Asher Wertheimer, one of Sargents greatest patrons. Sargent has again turned that index finger into a box shape, notice how at the first knuckle it turns and runs away from us and joins the back of the hand. The back (shadowed) part of the hand and the shadowed part of that finger are all of a piece. That unifies the whole shadow part of the hand, reduces the number of complex shapes represented, and explains the perspective of the hand, all in one casual looking simplification. This was installed based on observation, but is a construct rather than a transcription of pure visual experience.. I think I will go and smoke a quick cigar myself.