Monday, December 6, 2010


images from

Above and below Sorolla. Back when I was studying with R.H.Ives Gammell he would tell us he was teaching us to "see". He would say of a drawing or painting,"it is not well seen" He believed that the skill of drawing was "learning to see". He received this phrase from Paxton, his teacher, I assume, although it was in common usage when he was a student.

I believe it is this quality, "seeing" that characterizes the work of these three painters and is the great thing they have in common. Yesterday I was painting in McClellandville, South Carolina and an older man came up to me and started talking about painting, he evidently did it. He asked me what I thought of Cezanne and I didn't say too much. After being pressed several times I told him I was not much interested in Cezanne, he asked me why, and I told him. He then asked me who I did like, and I said Sargent, I admire a lot of artists but I figured he would know that one. He did, and he told me that the critics ( and he) preferred Cezanne because he was an innovator and Sargent wasn't. I went back to work. Everybody wants to explain painting to me, I seldom get much I can use on the blog. The next two paintings are by Sargent.

Apart from the idea of setting innovation ahead of the appearance of the actual paintings, I felt he was wrong and thought about it for a while. I decided after about an hours mulling it over that this "seeing" was their innovation. No painters work before them had quite as much of that quality (except perhaps Vermeer) and that was what the critics were overlooking. They probably missed that because they didn't paint, I don't know.

I suppose for an innovation to be truly innovative it must cast an influence beyond the artists own work. Sargent certainly did that. A whole generation or two almost worshiped him. I think tomorrow I will show one or two of those. Zorn painted the two below.

This "seen" quality means that the paintings look more like vision. There is a softness of edge and a simplification. But also they are painted from direct observation in a way that really drew from the impressionists working methods as much as from the academic ( do you remember the post I did recently defining impressionism the way 19th many century painters thought of it?)


willek said...

These last few days of posts have been a treat.That lead off Srolla is lucious. Now there is a harmonious pallette

I know it must have been a convention in the old days, but why did portrait painters put such tiny heads on their subjects? That Sargent painting.. The gal is at least ten of her heads high. I know this is probably a really big picture, meant to be hung on a really big wall. Does that have something to do with it?

Mary Byrom said...

When you say they are more like you mean the only thing in focus is what one is looking directly at and every thing else is out of focus and/or fuzzy? So only one part of the painting is in focus(with more hard edges, etc) and the rest is generally out of focus/soft or handled broadly with little detail?

Unknown said...

The poor guy probably wasn't able to appreciate your painting very much or recognize the fact that a great painter was alive standing right in front of him.

Kessie said...

Nice to hear you talk about "seeing". My art teacher worked and worked with us, trying to get us to see exactly what was in front of us, and not the pattern our brain was trying to interpret it into. I've not been able to work on art as much since certain small children have come along, and I worry that I'm losing my ability to "see". I suppose one can work back into that training, as long as they are aware of it?

billspaintingmn said...

What you see is what you get, so seeing is probably the beginning of
great art.
"As a man thinkith, so shall he be." said...

Well, I actually didn't think much about Cezanne's work until I studied his paintings. I still don't care much for his paintings but I really do admire Cezanne's contribution to color work..modeling forms through color temperatures rather than value. He called it modulation, I believe, and we all use it today to some extent or another.

Being in Boston, I grew up on seeing . I love his paintings but he really wasn't doing anything differently than other great European portraits painters at the time. But his early Venetian scenes are sublime, as in the flamenco dancer at the Gardner Museum.

Susan Roux said...

Hi Stape,
Seeing. Its what its all about. If you can't see it, you can't paint it. But there are people who can teach you to see the things you've been missing all along and thus help you raise your work to a new level. Its truly the ticket!

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Seeing is what it's all about. Amen.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Fashion illustrators do the same thing. Making the figure elongated gives an elegant look.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I answered that in the blog tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I can't imagine any way to tell him that!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think so. But lost time is hard top make up. I think it probably best to work towards being the best painter you can be.Experience in life can bring judgment to painting, but nothing equals time behind a brush and a trail of spent paint tubes.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It hurts when I think.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't think that Cezanne invented that. But I do know that my hero Aldro Hibbard was influenced by the dude.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is a good start anyway. I think that seeing must be taught and the ateliers out there are doing a pretty good job of it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

For ever and ever,Amen.

Antonin Passemard said...

Thanks for this great post about seeing.
I feel sorry for the guy. He was standing in front of a great painter of our time and did not "see it" ;).
Sure Cezanne is great but people likes to talk to him as an artist that went beyond impressionism all alone. I do not think he could make it without Pissarro and he knew it.

Judy P. said...

Funny I've been thinking for a week now about 'seeing'; I try to model a form correctly, and then there's the local color combined with the color of the overall light etc. But what makes it look like it's right in front of you? Right now I'm thinking it has to do with way more varied edges, and that all the color should be more 'ordinary' looking. That's as far as I've gotten though - thanks for writing about it.

Doug Williams said...

Check out a website for the Adelson Galleries in NY. They have a current JSS exhibition, entitled Sargent and Impressionism. I believe that there is innovation in learning to see.

Anonymous said...

Great posts the last few days. The art you address are the best!! Your definition of seeing is good. Reminds me of having a "vision' before you paint. Simplification and softening of edges always good. Impressionism and direct observation separates us from Studio painter I think because we attribute more to the reality out there as opposed to make up invention in our head. Thanks Stape, great stuff, I agree Cezzane is no comparison to Zorn and Sargent.

Antonin Passemard said...

Here are websites with the complete work of Zorn and Sargent :

Sascha Thau said...

Wonderful blog entry!