Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sargent at the Met... and more

The current Sargent exhibit at the Met is wonderful. Of course. In addition to several of his iconic high society portraits, "Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends," offers more intimate images of many of Sargent's friends and fellow artists as well as numerous sketches.

The show goes on and on with scores of images. The beauty of that is not just the richness of the selections, but having the opportunity to absorb the effect of Sargent's brush strokes, time and again. As artists we can spend a good bit of time examining technique in a single painting but seeing dozens, one after another, is so much more impactful.

I was especially interested in noticing subtle nuances in color and value changes - like the range of color in a white ruffle. Much to my surprise, photography (without flash) is allowed in this exhibit. Both photos below show sampled color from "white" areas. The circle is absolute white and the squares are neutral tints that make up mid-tones and shadow. Clearly, shadows on the satin dress are much warmer, reflecting the warmth of the tapestry, while the ruffle is influenced by cool black.

detail of Portrait of Madame Edouard Pailleron 1879
color samples, Ada Rehan
Being allowed to take pictures added a lot to my experience, not only because I have the photos to refer to, but it helped me focus on the details I was most interested in as a painter. Which, somewhat, kept the experience from being totally overwhelming. Somewhat. 

Even though the exhibit was busy on a Sunday morning, there was enough room to get up close to examine details as well as step back to admire large canvases.

Take a look at the variation in color of this rose, velvet dress. Sargent so beautifully captures the character of velvet! Highlights are cooler and less saturated; by contrast, the lower part of the skirt has a vibrant coral cast. Luscious!

Mrs. Hugh Hammersley by John Singer Sargent 1892

Zeroing in on Sargent's technical moments that amaze... here is a close up of the "simplest" rendering of a hand, delicately holding a jadeite topped cane. So much information in so few strokes!
detail W. Graham Robertson, by John Singer Sargent 1894

There are also a few genre paintings which I so enjoy. This one made me laugh ... and relate! Seriously, though, the energy in these brushstrokes seems perfect for depicting an artist who paints on his unmade bed! (and don't you just want to say, "does your mother know you're painting on those sheets?!")
An Artist in His Studio, John Singer Sargent, 1904

The Met posts most of their exhibits online - so you can take a look here - but there is nothing like seeing the real thing. Plus, if you go before September 7th, you can also see China: Through the Looking Glass. 

It's a fitting juxtaposition of exhibits. Chinese culture and decorative arts greatly influenced European art during the 1800s. This can easily be seen in interiors of the time, as in the gallery scene below. So, having this wonderful, multimedia exhibit featuring Chinese influence on western design at the same time as the Sargent show was an added bonus.  

China: Through the Looking Glass closes September 7th so hurry and go if you can! If you can't get there, here is a video describing this record breaking exhibit. But really, it's a spectacle that's masterfully staged and best experienced first hand.
couture and Whistler's painting of Chinese porcelain, 1864
Thanks for joining me on another art adventure!

And... ps... closer to home, you're invited to a reception for "A Bygone Era... in Oils" - an exhibit of my still life and interiors at Ruth Keeler Library in North Salem, September 13th. Details to come.


  1. Dorothy, love your photos showing how those beautiful ruffles and velvets. Just what I needed for a nourishing breakfast this morning. And thanks for reminding me about these exhibitions. I need to see them both. Paint on, sister!

    1. Thanks Betty, and happy to help! I do hope you can go to the China show. Not much time left and if you can, go during the week since the last weekend days will be super crowded. Not to dismiss Sargent, but there are often Sargent shows. China:Through the Looking Glass is unique and a wonderful tribute to Asian influence!

  2. Wonderful article, Dorothy!
    You make me even MORE anxious to see it!!


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