Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sargent's tonal "themes"

images from artrenewal.org

I have written about tonalism before. There is a search box up at the upper left if you want to find thgose. Sargent uses some tonalist ideas in a number of his paintings. Here are a few examples.
Above in the Jardin Du Luxemburg painting, Sargent has suffused the whole scene in a cool blue pearlescence. He is putting the picture into a unifying color theme. All of the colors except for a few red accents are variations on a color theme. This soft shade permeates the entire picture and is mixed into almost every note.

Lady Agnew above also has a tonal "drone" going on. That cool blue and soft blush pink is everywhere on the canvas. The trick to getting a tonalist effect is often as simple as suppressing its complement. That is if you want to paint a tonalist color based on yellow, you suppress it's opposite, violet. The color unity of the painting benefits enormously. This is the opposite idea of impressionist color in a way. The color is "corralled" into a narrow range, rather than observed in its actuality. Sometimes a plein air painting in accurate color can look like a mosaic of unrelated colors.

Here is another example, that glowing rose madder color is sneaking into just about everywhere in this painting. Sargent is "smuggling" red.


barbara b. land of boz said...

......well said Stapleton, Thank you! Oh and the Sargent's are lush.

Pati Springmeyer said...

Very useful. As a full time working artist, I've just now started to expand beyond my classical academic training, trying not to slavishly match all the color I see, but rather make a decision about what colors will best convey the mood I want the painting to have. Thanks!
Pati Springmeyer

Edcooper_art said...

Hi Stape, interesting post! Its interesting how the Lady Agnew portrait seems to rely very little on a the tonal divisions you mentioned in previous post.
Apart from the nose and some subtle shade at the side, its almost all local colours! (am i reading that right?)

I guess it shows that sargent didnt need to rely on strong tonal divisions as in this case it seems much more subtle.

Philip Koch said...

Sargent is amazing as an oil painter, and your comments on his color are spot on.

It is remarkable- he painted so well that these portraits of over-privileged upper class women came out so vital and alive. In the hands of a lesser artist these sitters could have ended up dull as cold dishwater. On a good day Sargent could breath life into almost anything. Talk about a painter setting the bar high...

billspaintingmn said...

Thanks Stape! These last couple of posts on halftones, color, and tonal themes are on my mind all day.
I'm wrapping my understanding around it best I can.
To practice this will be my best attempt to understand it.
The top painting is one of my favorites at the local museum. There is an atmosphere of twilight and magic to it.

willek said...

Think Sargent would have set his subject up with those props and colors in mind before hand?, or would he have translated the color scheme and the subject into what he painted.

Kyle V Thomas said...

I love Lady Agnew. It's been one of my favorites of Sargent and I got to see it at the National Gallery in Edinburgh when I lived in Scotland.

I'm very interested in Tonalism as a technique for creating mood and harmony. The idea of suppressing the complement makes a lot of sense. I'm going to have to try that.

Thanks, Stape.

Mary Byrom said...

Nice, nice, nice ! Great series of posts Stapleton.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are welcome.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Pati, I have been working to do that myself.

Stapleton Kearns said...

This is a different lighting situation. But where the shadows are, the clarity of division is there also.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. I think some of the sitters must have been very interesting, like Asher Wertheimer. The ladies had really cool clothes though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, tomorrow I am going off in a new direction , at least for a day. I need to do a Sargent bio too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I got you on the front page tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Is that where that is?

Stapleton Kearns said...


s thompson said...

I have just been reading your blog for a short time, but you have taught me so much. I am learning to really SEE like I never have. Thanks so much for your help.