Saturday, December 21, 2013

Luscious + luminous

Last May when I wrote about the John Singer Sargent watercolor exhibit currently at the Museum of Fine Arts (read post here), I had so much anticipation for the show I wondered if it could ever live up to my expectation of it. It did—and then some. I was truly wowed by Sargent's innate talent as a keen observer of people, places and things. The one thing that struck me about his works is how luscious and luminous they are. He did light and shadows so well, and I love how Sargent captured dappled sunlight on a building or how his whites are anything but white, but rather a zillion shades of color. Also, he didn't like to paint a big expansive skyline, but instead zoomed in on a subject, eliminating a grounding horizon line. I highly recommend the Sargent show to all of you art enthusiasts—there are a ton of his watercolor paintings, with a few oil of his paintings sprinkled in. And for just five dollars more you can take the self-guided tour with headphones and audio-visual, which is jam-packed with information. I learned lots about his life and his unusual watercolor techniques, and you will too. For example—did you know he wasn't a Boston Homeboy? Nope. He grew up in Europe, spoke four languages, and first came to America when he was 21.

"To live with Sargent's water-colours is to live with sunshine 
captured and held, with the luster of a bright and legible world, 
'the refluent shade' and 'the Ambient ardours of the noon."

—Evan Charteris, 1927:

Most folks only know John Singer Sargent as a rock star portrait painter of notable "one per centers" of the guilded age—wealthy Americans and British aristos—but he grew weary of being a notable portrait painter, stuck in a studio. So instead of all that safe fame and fortune he set off to paint what he wanted,  and where he wanted. His travels brought him all over the globe—desolate Bedouin camps in North Africa, harsh marble quarries in Carrera, Italy, romantic, aquatic Venice with its amazing architecture and wonder, plush Italian villa gardens, salty seaside villages in Corfu and Majorca, and mountainous Tyrollean alps, to name just a few places. He still painted faces, but they were everyday people, some living gritty, hard lives. These faces—often nameless—included Middle-Eastern Bedouins, Majorcan fishermen, goat herders, quarry workers, Venetian gondoliers, Spanish flamenco dancers, even tramps, and he posed his sisters and nieces as models in many of his paintings. He also painted everyday scenes, such as a stream full of colorful pebbles and stones, or ripe, ruby red pomegranates on a tree. No matter what he painted, his work is dazzling!! I might have to go and see the show again!

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