Sunday, June 2, 2013

John Singer Sargent at the Brooklyn Museum

Recently I was fortunate enough to visit the exhibition of Sargent's watercolours at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The text on the website reads, in part,
"This landmark exhibition unites for the first time the John Singer Sargent watercolors acquired by the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the early twentieth century. The culmination of a yearlong collaborative study by both museums, John Singer Sargent Watercolors explores the watercolor practice that has traditionally been viewed as a tangential facet of Sargent’s art making. The ninety-three pieces on display provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to view a broad range of the artist’s finest production in the medium."
One of the first things  I noticed about the work was the way the artist framed his subjects, cropping dramatically. When others painters were presented with the vista of a famous garden, they would include the important landmarks. Sargent would come in close to find his subject, a "fragmentary slice" of the landscape, as illustrated at left with his Venetian scene.

Bedouin Camp, 1906
For those of you who paint with watercolour, the notes on the technical aspects of the paintings would be of great interest. Here is the text of the label accompanying Bedouin Camp, shown below.
"Sargent often used undiluted colors straight from the tube. In some instances he bulked colors further with the addition of zinc white paint. Unlike oil paints, watercolors can only be applied to a certain thickness before the paint shrinks and begins to crack as the water evaporates. In this work, Sargent pushed the physical limits of his medium, as can be seen in the buildup and cracking of paint in the face and turban of the squatting Bedouin at the lower right."
Sargent's actual paints, in their tubes, are on display, so you can see exactly which brands and pigments he favoured.

The show continues until July 28. A 12-minute video of a contemporary watercolourist attempting to reproduce one of Sargent's paintings can be found on the museum website.

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