This first painting is one Sargent created of a Mabel Batten, a popular amateur mezzo-soprano in her own time (1857-1916). She played the piano and the guitar, composed her own songs, and was an arts and music patron. Sargent captured her swept up in the emotion of singing her own song. He cropped his painting to emphasize her posture, according to the sign next to the painting.
This next portrait from 1892 really impressed me as well. In London, Sargent painted Mary Frances Hammersley (1863-1911). He really captured her personality in this painting and it led to his election into the Royal Academy. As the exhibition sign read, “One critic enthused, ‘The head literally vibrates with life; never has the spirit of conversation been more actually and vividly embodied.’”
Again, look closely at the genius of this portrait, from the great diagonal of the colorful fabric coming up from the bottom left and leading the eye to the sitter’s face in the upper center of the canvas to the paint handling of lace and decoration on fabric to the plays of subtle purples cooling the vibrant fuchsia color.
|Slender feet and beautifully handled paint in this Sargent|
Now this detail of the Sargent portrait of American actor Joseph Jefferson as Dr. Pangloss (1890) is just plain fun. The energy and intensity of the gaze, and that HAIR! Is this the origin of a scary Bozo the Clown? I love the lavender swash stroke over the top of the bald head. It does help the face launch towards us, does it not?
Many of the signs in this art exhibition explained that John Singer Sargent bartered or outright gifted paintings to friends. Like most artists, Sargent was friends with many other artists. His friend, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens created a portrait in relief of Sargent’s sister Violet while playing a guitar. In return Sargent painted this wonderful portrait of the sculptor’s son Homer and wife Augusta. I think he perfectly captured the expression of a boy distracted while being read to.
I also love how the artist emphasizes the fidgety-ness of the boy by placing a dull red outline around the twisted foot. The strong color [as well as the highlights on the shiny black shoes] pulls your eye down. And yet the red is muted enough that is never takes away from the boy’s face [the area of highest contrast]. Along with the slouching shoulders, one can easily feel the informality of the pose.
|"Portrait of a Boy" by Sargent|
the boy’s face. I also enjoy how the cool tones in the book contrast with warmer hands. Still, this area has an overall lower contrast and chroma as the main subject area. All parts of the composition help to emphasize the boy and his interest in …. You!
These Sargent artworks were on exhibition at The Met in New York City, but it is over now. Or perhaps it has moved on to another city.
P.S. Happy birthday to nieces Elyse and Erin.
~ Kelly Borsheim, sculptor, painter, writer, teacher