Sargent Study - Corfu: Lights and Shadows
watercolor, 6" x 6"
Sunday I [finally] got to see the John Singer Sargent exhibit. I had to go to Boston to see it, but it was well worth the trip.
There were more than 100 watercolor paintings from both the Brooklyn Museum and Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Considered the leading portrait painter of his generation, Sargent was born January 12, 1856, in Florence to American ex-patriots and lived all over Europe. Read his bio here.
Most paintings in this show were painted plein air, during his travels through the Middle East and Europe. Most are painted with a limited palette, but that by no means limits Sargent's mastery of composition, perspective, form, mood, light and color. It never keeps him from describing a stark Bedouin tent encampment, a lush mountain stream or the dappled light of a garden. He travels with his sisters and some other artist friends and it's fun to note that he takes a great deal of time setting up the compositions, and they photograph the scenes.
It was fascinating to be able to see, up-close, the preliminary drawings underneath, the mixing of the paint, the use of white crayon, opaque white paint, and even the applying of watercolors in a thick impasto. The paintings of Venice are particularly interesting - many are painted from a gondola, in a very limited palette. The pencil drawings are very detailed - it almost looks as though he's using a ruler to draw the steps of the building, but the painting is very loose by comparison.
I thought it would be interesting to copy Sargent's painting Corfu: Lights and Shadows to learn a little about his technique. I tried to match his color choices, so I used alizarin crimson, ultramarine, naples yellow, quin gold, aurelian, sepia, prussian blue. In this painting, Sargent wasn't shy about scrubbing and blotting color. He also went back in with opaques and used a white crayon to create resists. I don't think mine comes close - but I did learn a bit about trying to capture the flickering light and shadow.