Posts Tagged ‘John Singer Sargent’

I have a lot going on this morning but I thought I’d share a lovely video that features the work of John Singer Sargent, focusing on his work, primarily his watercolors, painted in Venice. He visted the city a number of times in his life and held a certain fascination for it which certainly shows up in this work.

I am a fan of most of Sargent’s work but it was his work in watercolor that really hooked me.  His work is filled with light and the looseness of the painting makes it feel immediate and in the present, not as though it were painted 125 years ago. That looseness and the vibrancy of his colors give it an urgency and life. Just plain good stuff.

Take a look and enjoy the light.

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John Singer Sargent El JaleoSunday morning and I am in need of a little kick.  Maybe a little flamenco music?  There something in the energy and precision of the music and the dance that makes it invigorating while still feeling calm.  And that seems right this morning. Just want I want and need.

Sargent_John_Singer_Spanish_Dancer Study for El JaleoFlamenco always reminds me of El Jaleo, the huge  ( it’s about 8′ by 11′ in size) masterpiece shown above  from John Singer Sargent. that hangs in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  The very large painting at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum in Washington, shown here on the right, is actually a study for the dancer in El Jaleo although I think most people who see it think it works very well as its own painting.

If we’re going to have some flamenco this morning I think we should hear from the late great Paco de Lucia, king of flamenco guitar and one of the great guitarists of all time.  Here he is a year or two before his death in 2012 with his Buleria por Solea, the buleria referring  to the 12 beat rhythm of flamenco.  Enjoy and have a great Sunday as your Thanksgiving holiday winds down.

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Thomas_Hart_Benton_-_Achelous_and_Hercules_-_SmithsonianOne of the great things about going down to the DC area is being able to take advantage of the great museums that are part of the Smithsonian Institution.  The nineteen museums that make up what has been called America’s Attic ( I prefer America’s Treasure Chest) see more than 30 million visitors come through their doors each year, all admitted free of charge, to see an incredible collection of  art and artifacts.

Sargent_John_Singer_Spanish_Dancer El JaleoThis year, in the afternoon before the opening of  my show, we made our way to the American Art Museum which is downtown, several blocks off the Capital Mall.  It’s a wonderful collection of American art that runs the gamut from the grandness of Hudson River landscapes to the rawer but no less powerful beauty of folk art.  There are examples to suit every taste and all are exceptional.

I was there primarily to see the great mural, about 5′ by 22′ in size,  shown at the top, Achelous and Hercules from Thomas Hart Benton.  Because of the museum’s location away from the Mall, the crowds are sparser and it was a thrill to be able to stand alone in front of this  grand painting without to have to constantly look around other people.  Just an inspiring piece to see.

There is so much more to take in that our short time there barely scratched the surface.  If you get the chance to get to the DC area, definitely take the time to visit this museum and the others that make up the Smithsonian.  However you feel about the role of government, I think you will be proud of the collection that has been assembled in the name of the American people.

Eastman_Johnson_-_The_Girl_I_Left_Behind_Me_-_Smithsonian Agnes Tait- Skating in Central ParkAlbert_Bierstadt_-_Among_the_Sierra_Nevada,_California_-_Google_Art_Project

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If you are a regular reader, you probably know that I like old photography from the 19th century.  I am constantly fascinated by being able to step into that time period via these images, more so than reading a passage from literature of the time.  There’s something about seeing how the reality of the time is portrayed as well as seeing how our commonality as humans remains over time.  It’s like the difference between picking up a worn book printed in that time, the pages frail and stained with waterspots, and looking through a clear window that somehow takes you back to that moment.  I think this photo shown here is a great example of this.

This photo is called Sadness and was taken by the British photographer Juliet Margaret Cameron in 1864.  Cameron was a Victorian aristocrat who took up photography, in the medium’s relative infancy, at the age of 48.  Over a ten year period she took over 3000 large format images of many of the celebrated figures of the time– Lord Tennyson, Carlyle and Darwin, for example– as well as staged recreations of literary and dramatic scenes.  She moved to colonial India in 1875  at which point her career in photography effectively ended.

Sadness is an image of the legendary British actress Ellen Terry, who became the most celebrated Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and continued well into the 20th century until her death in 1928, a career that spanned 70 years.  You may not have heard of her but her image as Lady MacBeth was immortalized in this  1889 painting  by John  Singer Sargeant .  In Sadness,  Terry was but a girl of 17 and was about to be married to a much older man, artist George Frederic Watts.  Perhaps the sadness portrayed in this image foreshadowed their short  marriage, which lasted less than a year.

History aside, I find the immediacy and presence of the image very appealing.  I don’t feel as though I am looking back in time.  This could be this very morning.  The humanity in it is great and I can easily feel the moment, could feel myself in the very instant that it was set.  I think this sense of  being set in the now of the viewer is a defining quality of  all great visual art, at least in my eyes.  And this image from Juliet Margaret Cameron has that.

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Yesterday, there was a guest blog on the Huffington Post from Paul D’Ambrosio, who heads the New York State Historical Association which contains the Fenimore Art Museum and the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown.

It’s a really interesting insight into what it takes for a museum in a fairly remote area to thrive, to be a vibrant presence that attracts a wide audience.  As I’ve noted  here, I have an exhibit, Internal Landscapes: The Paintings of GC Myers, opening at the Fenimore in August so I read with interest as D’Ambrosio recounted how the museum has grown in the past few years with heady choices for its exhibits including recent shows featuring the work of John Singer Sargent,  Edward Hopper and an American Impressionists show featuring works from Mary Cassatt (and one from Monet) which is now there.  These shows have drawn wide coverage from the  press and have helped attract museum-goers from distant locales to the museum to take in these shows there as well as its formidable permanent collections of Native American Art,  Amercian Folk Art and Hudson River paintings.  This mixture of a great permanent collection and intriguing new exhibits make the Fenimore a very attractive destination, one that the USA Today called one of the 10 Great Places to See Art in Smaller Cities.

Check out the article and, if you can, the museum and Cooperstown’s other charms as well.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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Gassed  John Singer SargentI’ve always loved the work of the great John Singer Sargent, best known for his exquisite portraiture.  Several years ago I saw a large retrospective of his work at the National Gallery in DC and was overwhelmed by the quality of his work in the show.  It was not in a style in which I work nor was the subject matter always my cup of tea but the beauty of his brushstrokes was gorgeous.  There was something beautiful in  how a nose on a portrait that appeared so perfectly modeled from a distance when inspected up close was a slash of paint, singular and perfect.

But for me the star of the show was his epic painting, Gassed, shown above.  It is a massive atmospheric  painting, nearly 8 feet by 20 feet, and depicts soldiers in World War I who have been the victims of a gas attack.  Blinded, they struggle ahead, linked  together, seeking help.  A departure from Sargent’s  trademark portraiture, it’s a powerful image and really captures the horror of  the first truly modern war that was hitting the entire world at that time.  The War to End All Wars –if only that were true.

I am reminded by this painting of a poem written in that same time, decrying the horrors that had been unleashed and the feeling of chaos that seemed pervasive.  It’s The Second Coming from William Butler Yeats.  The first verse is particularly powerful and the last two lines of it are often quoted and could apply to just about any time of turmoil, such as the present.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Both the painting and poem are interesting spotlights on the time.  I don’t know why either sprang to mind this particular day.  Maybe it’s all the doom and gloom, end of the world, here comes Jesus and he’s carrying a really big hammer stuff that is bombarding us around the clock.  Maybe the chaos and consuming din has caused us to not be able to hear our own falconer, our own guiding voice.

Or maybe I simply like the works of Sargent and Yeats.  It’s a mystery…

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