Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beginning an examination of selected passages from John Sargent

image from

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.


Brady said...

I love Sargent, I'm looking forward to more of your posts on Sargent.

Man, Valasquez's portrait of Juan De Pareja has to be one of the top ten portraits in the world. It's nice to see how Sargent's portrait holds up against it.

Sakievich said...

The Carolus Duran portrait is an interesting one. It's painted in a more traditional manner than Sargent's than his professional work. He uses a lot of glazes and scumbles to get his effect, though they are still done with his signature bravura. I was very surprised by it when I saw it at the Clark Institute.

Philip Koch said...

Sargent set the bar very high indeed. It amazes me how many balls he could keep in the air at the same time and still end up with a forceful basic composition.

His work reminds us that being alive is a great visual adventure.

Mary Byrom said...

Nice! I'm looking forward to this string of posts. I studied academic painting with an instructor who studied with etc, going back directly to Gerome. My first paintings had that underpainting..then when I went out doors I studied the direct paint method. Wow what a difference...Its nice to have the choices.

Unknown said...

I am really looking forward to your posts on Sarent, especially the contrast between his work and the academics.

billspaintingmn said...

I will be focused on this intently.

Unknown said...

This oughta be good, Stape..thanks for taking us on this journey.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think he was looking at that portrait when he did it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes but it looks like a Sargent even that early in his career.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sargent was so cool!

Stapleton Kearns said...

My teachers,teacher also studied with Gerome. It IS good to have different ways to do things. You can also mix and match.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Well I guess I better make em good.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I hope I reward that focus.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I hope it is good. I will do my best.